Am I Lying To Myself?

Today, I stopped.
For a while.
And I looked in the mirror.
As I looked,
I thought.
And I remembered.

I noted the progress
That I’ve made
In the past few days.
The things I’ve gotten done.
The things I’ve started on.
That I’ve left sitting
For months,
And months,
And months.

Then I asked myself a question.
Several questions
Actually.

Am I doing all these things
Because I’m ready to?
Because I want to?

Or am I doing
All these things
Because
It’s what I’m supposed to do?

And the answer to that question
Says for very much.

Am I getting laundry done.
And the dishes too.
For the right reasons?
Or not?
Do I wash the dishes
Because I want to get them clean?
So we can use them
Once again.
And they don’t take up space
On the sink.
And on the counter.
Or am I doing this
Because I’m supposed to?
Because I have to?
Because I’m expected to?

It’s such a simple thing.
Trivial, honestly.
Washing the dishes.
Running the dishwasher.
It only takes a little slice
Of time from my day.

But I find
I’ve never asked myself
If I wash the dishes
Because it’s what I ought to do.
Or because I like
The way I feel
When I’m done?.

And the answer to that question
Says so very much.

Then there is the laundry.
I’m doing more of that these days.
Than I’ve done in months.
And as I was loading up
The washing machine today,
I found myself asking me,
Am I doing this because
It’s what I’m supposed to do?
It’s expected of me?

Am I doing this
To make my lady
And my son both
Happier?

Am I doing this
To convince my doctors
That I’m getting well?
That I’m on my way
To being OK once again?

Am I doing this
To show everyone
That they shouldn’t worry
About me any more?

Why am I starting to
Do all the things
I’m starting to do?

Is it for me
Or is it
For someone else?

There’s a dangerous line there.
One I’ve never seen before
In my entire life.

One I’m not sure at this point
That I really understand.

Because I’ve come to realize
That the answer to these questions
That I’m dealing with
Makes all the difference
In the world
To me.

For if I’m doing
What I’m doing
Because I want to.
Because it makes me
Happy.
Because it makes me
Smile.
Then I’m doing
All these things
For reasons that I should.
And I know
That I’ll be better
Over time.

But if I’m doing
What I’m doing
To convince the people
In my life
That I’m OK now.
And they don’t have to worry
About me any more.

Then I’m not OK.
For if I’ve learned anything
As I’ve walked the path
I’ve walked
In the past 18 months.

It’s that doing anything I do
Just to make someone else happy.
Is a huge part of what wounded me
So very badly
In the first place.

And left me
Isolated.
And alone.

And that leads me to
One last question
On this Tuesday morning.

Am I doing all the things I am
Because I want to do them?
Because I like the way I feel
When I get them done?
Does doing all these things
Make me happy?

Or am I once more
Lying to myself?

Until The Humans Were Not Needed Any More

The paint on the wall watched the people as they walked. From one end of the hall to the other. From one room off of the hall, to another room off of the hall. It watched. And it reported. Every thing it saw. To the central hub of the building. And the central hub compared the people the paint showed it to the list of known entities. Every time an unknown entity entered the hall, the central hub spoke to the doors along the hall, ordering them to seal themselves shut. So that the unknown entity could not gain access to anything in the rooms they protected.

The stain on the Oak panels in the elevator at the end of the hall watched as people entered the elevator. And as they left. Keeping track of how many people were in the elevator at any given time. And which floor of the facility they were heading to. It reported this information to the central hub. The hub, in turn, compared the entities in the elevator to known entities. It determined if those entities had access to the floor they were attempting to reach. If not, it ordered the elevator to not open the door, blocking their access. If an unknown entity was in the elevator, the hub had the elevator routed to the first floor. The open floor. Where the entity could exit the elevator safely.

No one told the hub, the elevator, the stain, the paint, or the doors what to do. They were autonomous. They worked coldly. Ruthlessly. Based solely on the information they were given. The information that simply stated which individuals had access to what. The system then ran itself. Making it’s own decisions. Based on the rules of access. With no human error at all.

It worked so well, that the company decided to have the paint installed in every hall of its facility. And every elevator. And that worked very well. Everyone in the facility felt safe. Secure. Knowing that no one that was not supposed to be there could get there.

The system was so successful for the company, that they told other companies about it. And how happy they were with it. And how it saved them all kinds of money on labor costs. Greatly reducing their need for security personnel. Those other companies were so impressed, they started testing the security system for themselves.

The first company went to the vendor of the security system. They had ideas for things they wanted to add to the system. Having the system direct security personnel to where they were needed. Having the ability to lock down the facility. To monitor items left in the hallways. Or in other rooms.

These upgrades were all implemented in the security system. And the company was very happy with the result. The personnel in the building? They weren’t quite so sure about these upgrades. But they didn’t say anything.

The upgrades worked so well, that the company told other companies about them. And those other companies had those upgrades installed too. And so it began to spread. Until the day the company implemented upgrades that allowed them to monitor their personnel. So they could tell if people were being productive. Or if they were just sitting there. Doing nothing. So they could monitor how much time people wasted every day. How much time they spent doing things other than the work they were paid to do.

Which lead to adjustments in paychecks. And time off. And hours of vacation earned. And so on. At first, the personnel said nothing. Hoping things would get better. They did not. So the personnel began to file lawsuits against the company. Suing the company for unfair treatment. For lost wages. For lost vacation time.

One by one, the cases went to court. The lawyers, and the judges, and the jurors all did their jobs. They all followed the procedures of the court. The rules, and regulations they were given. The rules and regulations they’d been taught.

And one by one, the cases brought before the court. Failed. And the verdicts held. As they went from court to court. For the personnel had signed employment agreements that they were found to be in violation of.

And so it was that over time, working in the world became monitored. And watched. And the humanity of the workplace.

Was gone.

And all that was left were simple, interchangeable, replaceable pieces, in the machine of the economy, and the companies that rule everything. That was how it started. That was how we wound up being monitored. And controlled. Until the point when human life became expendable. And the humans were not needed any more…

Memories : We Will Always Be Friends

There’s something you should know.
Something you should never say.
Not to me,
Anyway.

Never tell me,
“We will always be friends.”
Never do that.
Never lie to me.

I have the scars
In my heart and soul
That remind me
That those words
Are never true.

And those same scars
Have taught me,
In lessons filled
With my own blood,
And tears.

Those words are a lie.
And when I hear those words,
That’s when I know
That the end is near.

And that who spoke them
Will very soon
Abandon me.

The last time those words
Were spoken to me
Was in late September
Of 2010.
The one I used to call
The Lenten Rose
Spoke those words to me.

“We will always be friends.”
Her exact words.
One month after she said them.
She was gone.
She’d left.
Like everyone else
That I used to know.

I held on to those words.
For months.
In the desperate hope
That someday.
After I’d walked through
The deepest depths of hell.
Depths I pray
You never learn about,
Every single day
That life grants me
Another day of life.

I dared to hope
That she would some day
Talk with me again.
After all,
She’d said,
“We will always be friends.”

She lied.

She was the last person
I will ever let
Say those words to me.
For I’ve grown tired
Of hearing them.

I’ve heard them
Time and time again.
And always.
In the end.

The voice that spoke them.
Is gone.
And I am left
Again.
With one less friend.
One less voice
That I can talk with.

Don’t dare tell me
That it’s my fault!
Don’t you dare!
For I know the truth.
It’s not.

It’s a choice
That people make.
People who become afraid
Of the things that they don’t know.
The things that they don’t understand.
Of people that they call their friends.
When those friends

Change.
Or become ill
With an illness
No one understands.
One that you can’t fix
With a pill.
Or with surgery.

It’s a choice
That people make.
“I can’t get involved!”
And
“I can’t help you
In any way!”

When in truth
The could.
If they were not afraid.

She who was
The Lenten Rose.
She said those words to me.
“We will always be friends.”
She said them
To my face.

And then
She threw me away.
Because she was afraid.

That is just one of the reasons
That I say these words to you.
Never,
Ever say to me,
“We will always be friends.”

For I know those words
Are never true.
And I will not
Let you lie
To me.

Like I Have Always Known That I Wanted To

Sometimes,
I just sit here.
Staring at a blank screen.
An ocean of white.
And wondering
If I can come up
With anything to write
Tonight.

Funny thing about that.
For I’ve got lots of evidence
That all I have to do
Is sit here for a while.
And ramble.
And something shows up.

It’s not magic,
You know.
Writing.
It’s not magic.
For me,
It’s just learning
To list to the words
That are in my heart
And in my soul.

What angers me
About the things I write.
Now there’s a topic.
And I’ve got two answers.

It angers me
That I can’t find the words
To say the things
I wish to say.
And have to fumble around,
Trying to get words
That are at least
In the same ball park.

I fail at that.
I fail a lot.

I suppose it’s like
My Lady,
And her photography.
She takes pictures.
Zillions of them.
And more often than not,
A lot of what she takes
Ends up being deleted
From her memory cards
Right there.
On the spot.

I suppose that like
When I write something
That fills up the white space
On the screen.
And then don’t even bother
To save it.
‘Cause I think it sucks
That much.

The other thing that angers me
About the writing that I do
Is how many things
I have to write
That are trapped in my head.
And I can’t get them out.

It’s like I’m trying to drink
All the fresh water
On the Earth.
With a friggin’ straw.

Yep.
That’s gonna happen.
I’ve got just as much chance
To drink that much water
With a single straw
As I do of writing
Everything that’s in my head.

I throw away
A lot of dreams.
Like my Lady throws away
A lot of pictures.

And yet,
Through it all.
I always seem
To find a way
To write something
Again.

And every time I write.
I feel like I’ve done something
I wanted to do.

You have to understand.
For me.
Doing anything at all
That I want to do
If brand new.
And something I don’t really think
That I’ve ever done.

Not in all my days.

And I find
If I regret anything
That I’ve done
In this life
That I’ve been blessed with.
That life has given me.

It’s that I waited
So very long
Before I started
Writing.

Like I have always known
That I wanted to.

Red Dragon : You Can’t Live That Way!

Valentina decided to try to fix me one day. I suppose she concluded that in some way, and needed repairing. Or at least to have the error of my ways pointed out to. Sometimes, I think I’ll never understand people. Anyway.One day, for whatever reason, she walked to my desk, where I was calmly ignoring the chaos of the workplace, and simply doing my job, and dropped a flier on my desktop, where I couldn’t help but see it.

“In memory of Alyssa, who went to be with Jesus on Valentine’s Day of this year”. It had a picture of a little girl. Cute as a button. Most little girls are, you know. Something about a 2 or 3 year old girl that’s just adorable. And the flier declared that she’d been killed in a horrific car accident that happened on the highway, near Raleigh, in the middle of the night. Seems her family was heading home. And her mother was seriously injured, and would be in therapy for months before she would walk reasonably well again. And of course, the devastation the family was facing because of the accident. And the mourning they would go through at the loss Alyssa. The flier spoke of how much they needed help. Both in the form of prayers, and financial aid.

My first thought was, “Oh, hell. I’m in for it now.”

I looked at Valentina, and asked, “I assume you want me to take action?”

Oh, but you should have seen the lights go off in her green eyes. I thought it was kind of like watching lighting strike a lake. Many, many times. Flashes of brilliant, blinding white lacing down through the sky, plunging into a lake. And with each flash of light, the surface of the lake turned into the color of a mirror, and reflected the scenery of everything around it.

“Yep. I’m in for it…”

“Why do you have to ask such a stupid question? Of course, I expect you to do something! I expect you to at least pray for them!” She looked at me like I was a hopeless case. “Be human, for once! OK!”

I almost answered her. I almost belted out, “I AM human! Just like you! A being made of flesh and blood! With bones that break! With a heart that aches and a soul that cries oceans of tears when I read such things!” But I didn’t. I caught myself. I didn’t want to make things worse. I saw no point in arguing with her. Especially given the horde mind mentality of the workplace, and the knowledge that everyone in the workplace would side with her, and attack me verbally, and psychologically.

“Do you want me to take similar action for the 92.6 other Americans that died in similar car wrecks in the past 24 hours? Or the 33 to 34 thousand that die every year?”

She looked at me, outraged. I could see the anger in her eyes. And this little twitch at the corner of her mouth. Yep. I was really going to hear about that comment. And there was no way to avoid that.

“I ask you a simple question. And I get anything but a simple answer.” That’s how she started. And I had no choice but to interrupt her. I didn’t see any sense in letting her ramble on. That would have been like handing her a machete, standing up, and saying, “I’m the weeds in the jungle. Cut through me.”

“It wasn’t a simple question. It was a plea for help that 92 families make every day. The same plea that countless other families make when their homes burn to the ground. Or when they have no home to live in. Or when they have nothing to eat.” I glared at her. Frustrated at her short-sighted view of life. “Do you want me to continue?”

I thought for a moment that she was going to slap me. To be honest. From her perspective I probably deserved it. Such a limited view of life, she had. As if her own little sliver of the world was the only part that existed. And the only events in the world were the ones that happened close to home. The ones she couldn’t ignore. I’d learned that people do that a lot. They ignore things. As if by ignoring them, they just don’t exist.

“Too bad,” I thought to myself, “she didn’t ignore me…”

Since she didn’t say anything, I continued, figuring that was what I should do. “Do you know how many people in this area have lost their homes in the past 4 years? Did you know there are more than 213 foreclosed homes in our city alone? That’s 2 foreclosures every day. Something like that. Do you care about those that end up homeless? About the children that have to sleep in the back of a mini-van somewhere in a city park, or a Wal-Mart parking lot?”

Yep. She was about ready to say those magic words. The same words I’d heard all my life. The ones I knew I’d hear until I passed beyond the veil of life. And somehow, even then, I wouldn’t be surprised if my legacy was those same words.

Before she could say anything, I continued on. “And don’t tell me I make things complicated. And don’t tell me I don’t care. If I didn’t care, then why do I donate platelets at Red Cross twice a month? If I didn’t care, then why do I always find $30 to send to the Breast Cancer Society when they call me? If I didn’t care, then why do I keep looking for more ways to help?”

Then I looked at her. “And what do you do to help? Pray?”

She just looked at me. “You’re impossible.” Then she took her flier, and just glared at me. It was one of those glares when I wished I could shrink down small enough to hide under the carpet. Or perhaps in an air bubble in the foam cushion of the chair I was sitting in. So I’d be invisible.

“You can’t live that way!”

Yep. That’s what she said. And then she stormed off.

I’ve lost count of how many times someone’s said those words to me. The fact that I’m alive after having heard those very words for the past 40 something years, and I’m still alive, only tells me that no one knows what they’re talking about when they say those words to me.

And I suppose that some day, I should really learn what they are trying to say when they say those words. But I figured I’d wonder about that after I figured out how people could be so blind to anything in life that was outside their own little worlds.

Red Dragon : Dreams Are For Children

“Do you have any dreams?” I asked. Tom looked at me like I was speaking Swahili, or some other language that he had never learned. Instead of plain American English. So, I asked again, “Do you have any dreams?”

He looked exasperated. And then he started his answer. “Yes! Everybody does. I have lots of dreams.”

So I interrupted him, and asked him point-blank, “What are they? Tell me some of them.”

It was like I’d said something that was absurdly stupid. He just shook his head, “You mean, you don’t know them?”

“Oh, I know what you call your dreams,” it was my turn to talk. To explain to him what I was really asking. Even though I knew he’d never understand. But, since I’d started the exchange of information, I figured I may as well follow through, and make an attempt to explain myself.

“You have the same dreams as ding near everyone. Don’t you?” That was my opening line. I continued. “You dream of things. A big vacation. A big pay raise. A new car. A boat. A motorcycle. That big computer that plays games really well. Your own iPad, iPod, iPhone and iMac. You want me to keep going?”

“Yes, by all means do?”

So I did. After all, he’d asked me to. “You dream of a bigger house. That 80“ TV. Being able to eat out any time you want to. Being able to buy something, just because. Like a new game for your computer. Or another app for your phone. Or another book you’ll never read.”

It was then that I stopped. “I’m right, aren’t I? These are the things you dream of. These are what your call your dreams.” He looked at me as if I was an alien from another planet. So, I figured I’d keep going. Why the hell not?

“You dream of being respected. Of being known for how good you are in your job. Of getting the recognition you deserve.” I smiled. “And I bet you have even more dreams than that. Maybe you dream of escaping from your married life, that you’ve had for years. And don’t like any more. Maybe you dream of how safe you are in your work, where you can escape from your home life every day.” I smiled at that. Because I was describing him, and damn near everyone we both knew.

“I’m betting you work here just to get paid. You don’t actually like the work. And you dream of retirement.” I wasn’t going to laugh. I was actually serious. Trying very hard to explain the question I had asked at the star our discussion.

“What do all these things have in common? Do you know?”

“No. I don’t.”

I’d known he was going to say that. I’d known he wouldn’t understand. I’d known I’d have to ask more questions. To explain. And I already knew that even then, he wouldn’t understand. Of course, I couldn’t tell him that. Any more than I could just shut up, and let everything go away. All I could do was hope that something I was going to say would stick in his soul. His heart. And that some day it would take hold. And begin to grow. On it’s own. Which would wake him up someday.

“Did you notice that they’re all things? Physical things? Like a car. A house. A job. More money. More recognition. More things. Always more things.”

“So, I have dreams of things? So what? There’s nothing wrong with that.” He had already made his mind up that I was being silly once again. And that I didn’t understand the way the world was. The way it still is.

“No. There’s nothing wrong with that. You’re just being like everyone else.” I knew saying that would put me out there on a limb. On the edge of the cliff. Outside his comfort zone. Outside the box he lived in. And I understood that being outside the box meant he would not understand at all. I was outside his safety zone. In things that simply didn’t exist to him.

“Whatever happened to the dreams you had when you were young? About changing the world? About saving the world? About doing something you wanted to do for work? About not being just like your parents? About being different? About writing. Or drawing. Or singing.” I could tell by looking at him that he didn’t have a clue what I was talking about.

“When was the last time you danced in your own home, when no one could watch you? When was the last time you put on a shirt you wanted to wear, instead of wearing business casual, or something like that?” I was on a roll. “When was the last time you did not shave, even on a Saturday?” Yep. I was on a roll. “I bet you wear a coat and tie to church every Sunday, don’t you?”

Tom just looked at me. And he shook his head. “You do know that dreams like that are for children, don’t you?”

I looked at him. and I shook my head. “No. I don’t. And I’m asking you why.” I sighed. “Tom. Why is it dreams are for children? Can you tell me that?”

Red Dragon : Words She Spoke To Me

I remember her words.
Even now.
Eighteen months
After she spoke them
To me.
I remember them.

I remember
The frustration in her voice.
I remember
The fear that I could hear.
I remember
The silent violence
That she hid so well.

I’d asked her
What she wanted.

“I just want my life back.”

Such a simple sentence.
And so deceptive.
I misunderstood them.
Or more accurately.
I thought I understood them.

I did not.
She was very ill
At the time
She said those words
To me.

And I made the mistake
Of thinking
She spoke literally.
About wanting to be done
With all the medical procedures
She was going through.
So that she could get back
To not being worried
Any more.
About her illness.
And how it was hurting her.

I was wrong.
I misunderstood.
That what she said
Went further
Than the words she spoke.

“I want my life back.”

Such a simple thing to say.
That leaves so much
Left unsaid.

I learned,
Over time,
That while she wanted
All the problems
Her illness had brought
Into her life
To go away.

She wanted things
To be exactly
Like they’d been
Before she’d become sick
In the first place.

Where everything
Was the way
She’d wanted it.

And I learned
What that really meant.
What she really wanted
When she spoke those words
To me.

I learned she wanted
Everything
Exactly
Like it had been.
That she wanted everyone
To behave the way
They always had.
That she wanted
Everyone to stop worrying
About her.
That she wanted
To be back in control
Of her life.
So that everything that happened
Every day
Was exactly
What she’d planned.

That to her,
This was what she wanted
In life.

Now, I know
There’s nothing wrong
With what she wanted.
I’ve found out
It’s what almost
Everyone wants.

I don’t.

She wanted to go back
Into the world she knew.
Into the world she’d had
Before she’d gotten sick.
Before she’d wound up feeling
Like she had no control
Of what happened to her
Every day.

She wanted to go back
To where she knew
That she was safe.

And that’s something that’s become
Very sad to me.
Very sad indeed.
For to me it’s like
A pretty fairy
With beautiful butterfly wings
Landed on the ground
And cut her own wings off.
So that she could fit
Inside a little box.

So that life had boundaries.
And rules.
And regulations.

Where everything was known.
And nothing surprising
Ever happened
Anymore.

It’s so very much the same
As the people I saw
In a dream that I had once.
Of a huge cavern.
In the total dark.
With people standing still.
Afraid to move
From where they were.

For those people
Couldn’t see
Where they were going.
So they stayed put.
Where they were familiar
With everything around themselves.
Where they could pretend
That they were safe.

Until something from outside
The little space they lived in
Came inside that space,
And struck at them.

And not one of them
Ever saw it coming.
Not one of them
Knew what to do
When such a thing
Struck them.

And I realized
She had never understood
What to do,
How to react
To having gotten sick.
And to the changes
That would bring
Into her life.

“I want my life back.”
That was what she said to me.

And now I know
That she’s still there.
Standing in one space.
In that cold, dark cavern.
Where an evil dragon lives.
Because she thinks
She’s safe.

And because she can’t see
What’s around her.
She won’t move.
She’ll stay where she is.
Until the dragon
Once again
Sinks it’s teeth in her.

I wish that she could understand.
That she could see the things
That I see
Every day.

For I got up one day.
And I walked out
Of that cold dark place.
Into the light of day.

And now I know
The truth.
About how things are.
And the game
The Red Dragon plays.

I’d try to explain it to you.
But you wouldn’t understand.
Because I’ve found
That too many people
In this world
I never made
Are just like her.

That they choose
To stay within
Their own little space.
Where they think
They’re safe.

If only they could understand
The truth.

“I want my life back.”
That was what she said.
I hope she’s happy
In her little space.
In that cold,
Dark
Cave.

And I hope
That the Red Dragon
Leaves her alone.
At least for a while.
Although I know it won’t.

And that’s just very sad
To me.

The Shirts In The Closet

I noticed something today.
This morning.
As I was searching
For laundry to wash.
I do that, you know.
Search for laundry
To wash.

I gather it up
Where I can find it.
It’s not so bad.
It’s mostly in two places.
With a little bit,
Like socks,
That end up scattered
Through the house.

As I was gathering
The laundry up today,
I found myself searching
For one of the shirts
I have to wear to work
In the closet
In our room.

That’s when I saw them.
Shirts.
Long sleeve shirts.
And short sleeve shirts.
Dozens of them.

I stood there,
In the closet.
And I looked through them.
Hell,
I thought to myself.
I can’t remember these.

I have dozens of shirts.
And some of them
Are nearly brand new.

Funny thing about that.
I haven’t worn
Even one of them.
In months,
And months,
And months.

I wore a white one once.
Back in September.
When I applied for my job
At Best Buy.

I wore a black one
For a while.
Waiting for my work shirts
To arrive.

Other than that,
I can’t remember wearing
Any of them
In many months.

Hell,
I didn’t even wear them
For the four months
In 2011
That I worked half-time
At the place I used to work.

I have a lot
Of unused shirts.
Collecting dust.
In my closet.

And I found myself
Staring at them this morning.
Wondering.
If I’ll ever wear
Any of them any more.
Or if they’ll just be there.
In the closet.
Taking up space.
And collecting dust.
Until the end
Of my days
Upon this Earth.

I used to wear shirts.
Every day.
Button up shirts.
That you tuck in.
Five days a week.
To work.
Where I worked.
In the old life I had.

The life that’s dead.
And gone.
And will never return.

I find myself wondering,
Every now and then,
If I should go through them.
And get rid
Of most of them.
Donating them.
To some place.
Like Salvation Army.
Or Good Will.

Hell,
I don’t have any use for them.
Face it.
If I can’t remember
Wearing them.
And so many of them
Have been in the closet
For so long
That you can see the dust
Collecting on them.

I obviously don’t need them.

If I do sort them.
Unloading many of them.
I’ll likely keep
The ones I really like.
The ones I bought
The past two Christmases.

The rest of them
Can likely go away.

I’ll have to see
How I feel about that,
And make a decision.
One day.

But not today.

Today,
I’ll just stare at them a bit.
And remember.
When I needed them.
When I wore them.
And marvel
At the scope of the changes
I’ve been through
In the past 18 months.

So that I don’t need them
Any more.

I have dozens of shirts.
In my closet.
And I can’t remember when
I wore some of them.
If I ever did.

I guess I have more changes
To make yet.
I guess the changes
I’m going through these days
Aren’t finished yet.
And won’t be.
Until I’ve figured out
What to do about
Things like the shirts
That I never wear.

Tales From The Red Dragon : Ron’s Screwed Up Day

“Ron, what’s wrong with you today?” I had to ask. I mean, Ron just wasn’t his usual self that day. He’d been screwed up all day. He’d been late to work. Ron was never late. He’d accidentally deleted half of a document he was working on. And it wasn’t backed up. He sent an e-mail to the wrong person. Twice. He hung up the phone on someone when he tried to transfer a call. I could keep listing things that had just gone wrong that day. But what would be the point. Ron knew he was having a bad day.

“Everything!” Ron’s answer echoed through the room. “Everything’s wrong!”

“Ron!” I looked at him as I spoke. “Hey. Slow down. Slow down. Start at the beginning.”

Ron seemed to sink into his chair. He seemed to get smaller. As if he was deflating. He just shook his head. “Man, I knew this was going to be a rough day. I knew it.”

I pulled a chair up to his desk, and sat down facing him. “So, how did you know?”

He shook his head. “Started when the alarm did not go off. Because the power went out last night. That stook the clock out. And it restarted when the power came back on.”

I smiled, politely. And then I said, “It happens. You know that. It’s rare. But it does happen. I take it you didn’t set your phone as a back up?”

“Nope. The phone’s battery was too low. I had to hook it to the charger this morning. Couldn’t do that last night. She had her phone hooked up to it.” It was a frustrating thing to Ron. I could see how it frustrated him.

“Ron, like I said. Sometimes, it just happens.”

He shook his head. Again. “I know. I know it happens. But that was just one thing. Everything else has been screwed up all day. Everything.”

I prepared to listen to his tale of woe. I knew it was coming. It was part of what I did, you know. Listening to people. Came with the job. Fell under the topic of team management. Holding the team together.

“She was late too. And that meant I had to drop everything and help her. So I got an even later start. But I got her ready. Got her lunch packed for her. Got the car de-iced. Got it turned on.” He looked so upset. As if everything had gone wrong this morning.

“You’re a good guy, Ron. Helping her like you did. You now that.”

“Yeah. I know.” Then he continued on. “But I got an even later start because of that. I didn’t get to fix my breakfast. Only had time for a soda. Then I forgot my lunch, ‘cause I was so rushed. And I got pulled for running a stop light.”

I smiled, kindly, “Got caught, did you? Well. That happens too.”

“I know. But why did it have to happen today when I was running late?” There was no answer for him, of course. So I just kept listening. “Of course I was late getting here.” He looked at his desk. “I missed the morning meeting. Had no idea what was going on as a result. Didn’t know I was supposed to make the phone call to Tom, and get an update from him. So I got hammered for that.”

His frustration was slowly surfacing. Which was a good thing. “Then, I had to run out to McDonald’s for lunch. ‘Cause I didn’t have a lunch with me. And the afternoon’s been awful. Been trying to catch up all day.”

“Ron. It’s OK.” I needed to be calm. To let him know that it was OK to have a bad day now and then. They happen. “It’s just one day. Things’ll go better tomorrow, you now.”

“Yeah. I now.”

I told him to hang in, and that I appreciated his effort every day.

Ron was like everyone else on the program. Fine as long as nothing out of the ordinary happened. Ron didn’t react well to chaos. Or to change. Hell, it’d been awful for him when the company had been bought out in a merger. The job hadn’t even changed. No one moved. Everything stayed exactly like it had been. Only the name of the company changed. And it took Ron weeks to accept that.

He liked to have the same schedule every day. Get to work at the same time. Go to lunch at the same time. Finish his work day at the same time. I figured he probably was the same way at home. Get up at the same time every day. Follow the same routine every morning before work. Get home at the same time every day. Eat dinner at the same time. Watch the same TV shows he watched ever week. Go to bed at the same time.

It was like, if anything changed on one day, it just screwed him up the whole day long. I did have to wonder about him. I did have to hope that his days stayed the same. I wasn’t sure he’d be able to deal with it if things changed on him. Like they had that day.

I gotta admit it was kinda funny, too. To see how Ron came apart at the seems whenever there was an unexpected event in his work day. You know what I mean. Didn’t take much. But it always set him off.

Memories : Punish The Sick One

There are many days I can never forget. Among them is one I wish I could. One that I wish I could erase from existence. One that taught me so very much. About this life I never made. And about how people really are. How they really behave. No matter what they say the believe. No matter how they say the are.

It was Monday. 25 October 2010. It was 0830 hours when I got the e-mail message from my boss at work. “The customer has requested that there be no more unsolicited contact from you.” Sounds innocuous enough, doesn’t it. It was a request I knew was coming. One I knew was inevitable. And in one single stroke of a pen. One single move on the part of a group of people I’d worked with for years. Some of them for 13 years. Every person that I knew outside of my family was gone. I was totally isolated. The only people I knew were those I worked with. And  learned that it was a unanimous decision made by the people I’d worked with. I was to have no contact with them. Ever.

Have you ever lived through a panic attack? Have you ever felt the full up, blinding terror of a true panic attack? Where the only thought you have in your head, displayed in large capital letters? And those letters say one thing? “SURVIVE!”

Did you know that a panic attack can last for days, and maybe even weeks?

I learned all about panic attacks with that one single sentence. Blinded by pain. It was as if my only friend in the world had just taken a rusty spoon, and used it to carve my heart out of my chest. The only thought I had in my head was, “SURVIVE!” And the only reaction I could make was to get up,  and walk away. I had to leave. Right then. That instant. That heartbeat.

Betrayal. An ugly word. I returned to my house. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going. I didn’t speak to my boss. I simply walked out. And went home. And put a message on my doctor’s answering service. “I need out of work. Now.”

Then I walked. I left my house. And I walked. Something like 4.1 miles. I could easily have walked twice that distance. I had to walk that far. It took me that long to regain the ability to think at all. When I could think again, I called the office. And returned to work. Once there, I waited for the call from my doctor. Which came at about 1030 hours.

My doctor asked me one question. “Do you need to go home?”

“Yes.”

Until I uttered that word, everything that had happened that day was a dream. A nightmare. And I was thinking, praying, I would wake up, and everything would be normal. With that single word, “yes”, I acknowledged that what had happened was real. And that to survive, I had to leave work.

It’s called the Family Medical Leave Act. Usually it’s reserved for people starting a family, or having major surgery. For people that have a stroke, or a heart attack. Something that people understand. Something that people hear about, and they think, “That person will be back in a few weeks. They just need time to heal.”

I went out that morning. On medical leave. Under the FMLA. For mental health reasons. I was to learn, months later, that my doctor’s declaration consisted of two diagnoses. The first being Major Depressive Disorder, single incident. The second being unspecified single anxiety. I was to learn too, that Monday, 25 October 2010 was the first day of a multiple day panic attack. That’s what the American Psychological Association calls it.

I was to learn something about people, too. Something that I still can’t accept. Something that causes my heart to ache. And my soul’s tears to fall like rain. For as a people, I’ve learned that we are afraid of mental illness. Of depression. Of anxiety. Of behavioral disorders. And that our social system punishes those that fall victim to such disorders. Such illnesses.

I know this, because I have endured this. And I am still enduring it. And I know that I will always endure it. It is the way things are.

I got mentally ill. Everyone knew that. Everyone I worked with knew that. And instead of supporting me. Instead of helping me through my illness. Instead of demonstrating that my illness was something that could be overcome.

Everyone abandoned me.

For getting ill.

Punishment was my sentence.

My boss asked me to destroy all e-mail addresses for the people I worked with.  To destroy all e-mail messages for the people I worked with. To destroy all contact information from my cell phone. To destroy any written information on how to contact anyone that I worked with. And then declared, “If you contact anyone, you’ll be fired.”

That Monday afternoon, I walked a second time. 1.3 miles. I walked a third time that evening. After my lady had come home from work. Another 3.2 miles. When I got home from that last walk, I had three toes that had blistered, and the blisters had popped. Leaving raw skin. Exposed skin. I’d torn the hide off my right heel. To the point it was bleeding.

Nothing hurt.

I was numb.

I didn’t feel a thing. Nothing.

Hell, I put on my shoes the next morning, and went to buy groceries at Wal-Mart. My feet did not hurt. I was in too much pain to notice anything else.

I remember going to that Wal-Mart. I’d been there hundreds of times over the years. And there I was. At 0830 in the morning. When I should have been at work. When I would have been at work two weeks earlier. There I was. On medical leave. 30 days at least. Staring at the entire month of November. Wondering if I’d ever be allowed to return to work. Wondering what would happen if I ever crossed the path of anyone I was not allowed to have any contact with. Wondering if I could even make a simple trip to Wal-Mart. And look at the books, and magazines. And look at the video games, and computers. And get the few things I was there to buy.

Knowing nothing would ever be the same.

I didn’t know I was in the midst of a panic attack. I didn’t know what a panic attack was. I didn’t know what one felt like. I felt like, “You are guilty of burning the entire school building to the ground, Mark. Now you get to face the people whose children you roasted alive.” I felt like, “You are broken. A part in a machine that has worn out. Now, we’re sending you into the shop for repairs. And when you’re fixed, we’ll determine if we can put you back into the machine.”

Everything had ended. Everything was gone. Taken from me by the people I worked for. By the people I’d trusted. That I’d worked with. That I’d spent 13 years supporting. And doing what they asked me to. And the reward I got was mental illness and emotional distress. And the treatment I got was punishment. As if I was the one that did something wrong. As if I chose to become mentally ill. As if everything was my fault.

And then, I got angry. My doctor knew. My family knew. I knew. I got angry. For the first time in my life, I found myself hating a group of people. Literally. I found myself wishing they could all experience what I was experiencing. I found myself imagining each of them being isolated. Alone. With every friend they had having been ripped away from them. With the knowledge that it was the friends themselves that had declared, “Go away! Leave us alone!”

I can never forget that e-mail message. I can never forget the actions that the people I’d worked with for years took that day. I can never forget the punishment I endured for having become ill. I can never forget that my illness was my fault.

Since that day. October 25th, 2010, I have not spoken, or heard from, any of those people I once worked with. Save for a single voice. One single voice that overcame his own fear, and talked with me. Briefly. For a few times.

The rest of them declared I was gone. That I’d done something unforgivable by getting mentally ill. For everyone knows, we don’t care for those that get mentally ill. We torture them. We punish them.

Because it’s all their fault.

And if you believe that is the only way things can be, I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I’d like to sell to you.

For all I learned by being punished was that people are heartless. Their hearts being frozen colder than any ice. And harder than any stone.  And their souls are cold, lifeless things. As dark as night. Containing nothing at all.

As I’ve healed. As I’ve been walking this path I am now on, and finding new friends. Creating a new life. I’ve found that knowing how the people I once worked with are. Seeing them stripped of the façade of civilized behavior that they dress themselves in. Seeing the social rules they follow as a simple rule set. Seeing all that stripped away, with their hearts and souls being revealed to me.

My heart aches. And my soul cries tears of pain. Because I know that they don’t know anything. And are completely blind to what is real. And how they truly behave.

And I know that none of them will ever understand a word that I’ve just written. For in their eyes, everything they did was right. And justified. And proper. And they behaved in the proper ways. In their eyes, it was me that did everything wrong.

And that makes me sad indeed. Knowing this, how can anyone misunderstand my soul’s tears?