Two Headlights In A Sea Of Black

It happens every time
I drive home from work.
In the dark.
I can’t stop it.
I can’t escape it.
It’s everywhere I look.
Everywhere.

Two headlights
In a sea of black.

I see that.
Over and over.
Endlessly.
Night after night.
And I remember.

That’s the last thing I saw.
Two headlights.
In a sea of black.
Too close.
Moving too quickly.
And I hear my voice.
In my head.
Again and again.
“That ain’t good.”

I remember two crunches.
I heard them.
One deafening, overwhelming.
One quiet.
An aftershock.

And me with eight fractures,
And two days in the hospital.
And I’m still healing.

And every time I come home from work.
Every time.
In the dark.
Always.
Everywhere I look.

Two headlights.
In a sea of black.

I know I’ll adjust.
I know it’ll take time.
I know I’ll be OK.
And I know.
On my trip home.
That’s not going to happen.
I won’t let it.

But I still remember.
And may never forget.

Two headlights.
In a sea of black.

Memories : Look At Me When I’m Talking To You!

It was a lesson I learned
A long time ago.
Before so many
Of the people I know now
Existed.

A lesson I learned
In seventh grade.
When my father was
The Protestant Chaplain
For the US Naval Support Activity
Across the Severn River
From the Naval Academy.

I learned it on a Sunday morning.
After the church service.
While I was experimenting with sound
On a piano
In the church activities building.

That’s when a full-grown male
Of the human species
Sat down in a chair
To my right.

He started talking with me.
Or perhaps it would be more accurate
To say he talked to me.
Whatever.
It doesn’t matter.
And it never did.

I heard every word he said.
Clean down to the times he asked
“Are you listening to me?”

I told him what he’d said.
Told him every word.

“I can’t tell you’re listening to me!”
I could tell he was angry.
“You’re not listening to me!”
And getting angrier.

That’s when I learned
What to do.
When I learned
What humans expect.
What humans demand.
As a signal of some kind.
That makes them think
Makes them believe
You are paying proper attention,
Expected attention,
Required attention
To them.

“Look at me when I’m talking to you!”

Have you ever had that screamed at you?
I have.
I had then too.
More times than I can count.
More times than I can remember.

But that time.
That Sunday.
It was different.
That time I realized
What humans expected.

So, I looked at him.
Straight into his eyes.
Dude.
He was angry.

I wanted to look at the wall behind him.
To look at the ceiling tiles.
To look at the floor.
The piano keys.

I didn’t.

I looked that human in the eyes.
I watched his mouth move
As he spoke.
I observed his facial expressions.
All of them.
I watched how he behaved.
I watched how he moved.
I watched everything he did.

His tie was perfectly tied.
Perfectly.
The collar of his shirt
Looked like it hid a noose
Around his neck.
The jacket of his suit
Was still buttoned up.
Hell,
It even had that fake tie
Stuffed in one pocket.

I saw every detail.

And I learned.
I learned how to shut him up.
How to keep him quiet.
How to make him happy.

A lesson I remembered.
A lesson I mastered.
In those few moments of time.

Pretend you’re looking at someone
While they talk to you.

That way.
They’ll shut up.
And leave you alone.
Because they’ll believe
You’re a good one.
Well behaved.

They’ll think you heard
Every last word.
And understood
Everything they said.

That human never knew
What I learned that day.
No one ever knew.
No one could ever figure out
What I’d learned to do.

It’s a memory
I can’t forget.
I never have.
I never will.

It was the day I learned.
Everybody lies.

Memories : The Story

[Author’s Note : This is an old one. I wrote it on 08 April 1999. But, events of this day have lead me to pull it out, and share it. If you know of any children afraid of monsters in the dark, perhaps you can share this one too.]

Once upon a time, there was a little girl. I do not recall her name. I only know she was young, about four years old. She was a pretty little girl, with curly strawberry-blond hair, and ice blue eyes. But she didn’t really look like Shirley Temple…

This little girl didn’t like to go to bed at night. She would scream at her Father, “But, Daddy! The monsters in the dark! They’ll get me! They’ll eat me up!”

And she wouldn’t go to bed. Her father would sit in his big rocking chair, and she would climb into her Father’s lap, and he would rock her to sleep. When she was asleep, he would carry her to her bed, and carefully tuck her in. “Good night, precious. Sleep tight,”
he would say. Then, he would kiss her cheek, and go do the things that Father’s do after everyone else is asleep.

Eventually, the Father became tired of having to rock his daughter to sleep every night. After hundreds of nights in a row, wouldn’t you? So, the Father decided it was time for his daughter to learn to go to sleep in her own bed.

But the little girl refused. “Daddy, the monsters! The monsters in the dark! They scare me! I can’t sleep knowing they are there!” So, the Father had to tell his daughter about the monsters in the dark. What they were, and where they came from. And how to not be
afraid of them.

So, he got his little girl into her bed, and tucked under her covers. And he sat down on the side of her bed, and held her hand, and told her this story…

Once upon a time, there was a little girl who was afraid of the monsters in the dark. And she would not sleep at night, because they scared her so. So, her Father, who was not a wise man, but who knew all about monsters, told her, “You don’t have to be afraid of the
monsters, and tonight, I’ll stay up with you, and I’ll show you why.”

So, that night, when it was time for the little girl to go to bed, her Father tucked her in, and then sat down on the edge of her bed. “Let’s just wait here, and we’ll wait for the monsters to show up.”

And the little girl lay in her bed, and waited. And she watched the shadows on her bedroom walls. And on her bedroom ceiling. And she listened to all the noises in the dark.

And she sat up in her bed, and pointed, “There, Daddy! There’s a monster!” And her Daddy looked at the monster in the dark, resting on her bedroom wall. “Oh, precious,” he said. “That’s just a shadow. And it’s certainly not a shadow to be afraid of. Why, look.” And he stood up, and walked across the room. And he picked up her little, pink Teddy bear. And when he did, the monster on the wall moved, and went away.

“See, precious. It’s not a monster at all. Its just a shadow from your Teddy bear. It’s just Teddy, standing on your dresser, keeping watch over your room. Making sure the monsters of the dark don’t come in. Making sure you’re safe while you sleep.”

And the little girl looked at the wall, where the monster had been. And she looked at her Teddy bear. “Oh, Daddy! I didn’t know it was Teddy. Please put him back, so he can watch me while I sleep!”

And from that night on, the little girl knew that the monsters in the dark were just shadows on the walls. And that they weren’t anything to be afraid of.

 

Memories : Lunch At ODU

It was 1980. And I was trying to be normal. Do things like other people did them. Like being more formal. Dressing more professionally. Carrying my stuff in a case, not in my hands. I’d been trying this for several weeks. And I thought I was getting used to it. Adjusting to the way it felt.

I was so terribly wrong. I found that out one day at lunch. When I made the simple mistake of going to lunch alone. In a place I’d never gone. The cafeteria at Webb Center. I did OK getting there. I did OK getting in line. But then, the line lead to where the food was. It was like this giant buffet place. And there were hundreds of people stuffed in there. Picking what they wanted to eat for lunch.

And there was me. With my case. Waiting through the line. Trying to figure out what to eat. And feeling all my coping abilities crumble. One-by-one. As my ability to think coherently slowly failed. As my ability to process my environment failed. As I become overloaded with information.

I have no idea what I ate that day. I know I ate something. And I know I had something to drink. Most likely a can of Coke. I know I sat at a table. And ate. Alone. Surrounded by an ocean of people. So many people. Too many people.

I remember standing there. In the line, with a tray. Waiting for my turn to pick out food to eat. I remember thinking to myself. I remember very clearly what I thought. “Marcus. No. It would not be a good idea to stand in the middle of the room. Spinning around in a circle, like a top. Rapidly. So your case acts like some kind of giant wrecking ball. And bashing anyone that comes near you. As you scream, LEAVE ME ALONE! Nope. Marcus. That would not be good.”

I never really understood that memory. Until 14 February 2011. When I was clinically diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. That’s when so many things began to make sense to me. My inability to cope with certain environments. Big crowds. The way they overwhelmed me. Left me totally confused. No knowing what to do, or how to cope. And just clinging desperately to a list of instructions in my head. As I tried, desperately, to not panic. To not run. To not scream. To just remain inconspicuous. Invisible. A nobody.

That’s another sign of my disorder, you know. My memory. That I can remember things like that instance when I went to the cafeteria at Webb Center. More than 30 years ago. And I can remember every detail of how I felt. And what I thought.

Don’t tell me I can’t be this way. Don’t tell me no one can be this way. I am. And I know that other people with Autism Spectrum Disorders are this way too. Where a simple walk through the local shopping center on Valentine’s Day, or Christmas Eve is a terrifying experience, and pushes me to the limit of my ability to cope.

In a world I never made.

Memories : History

I no longer remember the date.
Or the number of the room.
But I can remember
So very many details
Of that day.

I was in 7th grade.
It was the first 6 weeks
Of the school year.
Like everyone
In 7th grade.
I was taking US History.

The book was just damn boring.
Brutally so.
It was so very hard for me
To read that stupid thing.
To study history.
Things that happened
Way back when.

Studying how the USA
Came to be.
The vikings.
The Spanish.
The French.
The British,
And so many others.
That sailed across the Atlantic.
Finding their way here.

I ignored it all.

Didn’t read a word.
Until the first test
Came along.
And I realized
I didn’t know a thing.

As I sat there
On that day.
Staring at the grade
I’d made
On that test that day,
I realized I had a choice to make.
It was a choice
Left up to me.

Read the book
Of history.
And learn.

Or perhaps for the first time
Fail a class in school.

I never did take defeat
Lightly.

It was the first time I remember
My anger at myself.
And anger can be
Such a destructive thing.

It was the first time
I decided
To not let that test grade stand.
Instead,
I picked up my history book.
And started reading it.
And asking questions
In almost every class.
Starting with that day.

It was the first time
In my life,
That I’d attacked a class.
With the same ferocity
That I’d used at work
For 29 solid years.

It would not be the last.

I remember that day
Very well.
The decision that I made.
For that was just another step
Along the path
That lead to my destruction.

A path of self-denial.
Of self-inflicted pain.
That slowly turned into
Self-hate.

And as I walked that path
I lost all track
Of me.

Leaving just a shell
Of the person that I was.
A machine.
That could only do his job.

It was a decision
That changed everything.
Leaving only a machine.
With no heart
Or soul.

It was a decision
That lead me to the point
When I would walk
In the ice and snow.
Or in the rain.
Until my toes and heals
Blistered.
And then bled.

Until I couldn’t tell at all
If I was hurt or not.

Until I’d forgotten completely
Everything that mattered
To me.

I remember history
From back in 7th grade.
And the decision that I made
One day,
To never fail
Another test.

I remember
How that day
Changed everything
For me.

And I can’t help but wonder
How many people I know
Made a choice like I made.
Many years ago.
And now are completely lost.
And don’t even know.

And you wonder
What has caused
My soul’s tears…

Memories : This Heartbeat

It started in December.
Of 2010.
When I read a book.
And the author of that book
Wrote such simple words.

“Breathing in,
I am breathing in.
Breathing out,
I am breathing out.”

And slowly.
Day-by-day.
Things began
To fall into place.
To make sense.
For the first time
In many months.

And I started
To understand
What those words meant.
“Breathing in,
I am breathing in.
Breathing out,
I am breathing out.”

I began to realize
That when I felt down.
When I felt blue.
When I felt tense.
When I felt that stress
Across my chest.

It was time
For me to breathe.
Time for me to stop
Whatever I was doing.
And just breathe.

And that gave me
Time.
Time to think.
Time to clear my head.
Time to look
At what was going on.

I learned
To be here.
And now.
In this moment.
Not in the past.
Not in the future.
Not in anger.
Not in fear.
Not in depression.

I learned
To be here.

I learned
To smile.
To remember.
That I’m still alive.
That my heart still beats.
That my hands
Still feel everything.

I learned
That panic
Was not permanent.
It was only fear.

And anger
Was just a feeling.
Nothing more.

As I took the time
To breathe.
I learned the things  I felt
Were transient.
That over time
They change.

That everything changes.
And no matter where I was
In life in that moment.
The next moment
Could bring change.

That everything
That had happened
Up until that moment.
Was gone.
It could not hurt me.
Could not heal me.
Could not help me.
Could not scare me.
Any more.

For like a wave
On the ocean.
Once it comes ashore.
It’s gone.
And will return
Never more.

So today,
When I feel that fear.
That anger.
Or that emptiness.
I know.
Just to breathe.

And remind myself.
That it;s only transient.
And then it’s gone.
A part of my past.

And I am free
To face the moment
I am in.
Free to live
In this breathe.
In this heartbeat.

And that changed everything
For me.

One day at a time.

I write the words
Of this memory tonight.
For a friend of mine.
Whose heart aches these days.
Almost all the time.

I know what it is
When your heart aches.
And your soul
Cries tears of pain.

But maybe.
If you close your eyes.
And just take the time
To breathe.
And remember.

All any of us has
Is this heartbeat.
And nothing else.
Nothing more.

Perhaps that will help you
Like it has helped me.
To walk through your darkest days.
One step at a time.
One day at a time.
While the darkness
Fades away.

And once more
You find yourself
In the light
Of day.

Memories : Unlimited Soda

I remember.
Clearly.
The day I made that choice.
It happened
The first year I ever worked
In a world I never made.

1976.
It was in early October.
I’d managed to get
My very first job.
Working in a grocery store.
As a grocery bagger.
A generic name.
For a generic job.
A job in which
You could end up doing
Damn near anything.

Like straightening out
The contents of
The freezer isle.

Do you have any idea
How frakkin’ cold
500 half gallon boxes
Of ice cream really is?
Momma…
My fingers still remember that.
Even after all these years.

Back then,
Soda was dirt cheap.
Less than 50 cents
A can
Out of vending machines.
And the store had one.

I’d been working
All afternoon.
Into the evening.
I was helping
Close the store.
When I decided
I was thirsty.
And took a time out
To grab a drink.
And chug that drink down
While I was working.

No one minded
In the least.

But as I went
To get my drink,
I remember exactly
What I thought.

I thought
Of my family
History.
Our ingrained abuse
Of alcohol.
I thought of the problems
So very many
In my family
Had had with that.
Going back
For centuries.

I knew then
That a person shouldn’t drink
3 or 4,
Or 5 or 6
Cans of soda
Every day.
That doing that
Would not be a good thing.

But I knew also
About the dangers
Of drinking even one
Alcoholic beverage
In my family.

So I stood there for a moment.
Having bought a soda
From the vending machine.
With that cold grape soda
In my hand.
Feeling the coldness
Of the can.

And I remember thinking,
“I don’t care
If it’s wrong.
And it will hurt me
In the long run.
I’m going to let myself
Drink all the soda
I want to.
Because it beats the hell
Out of drinking
Alcohol.”

So on that night,
Working in that store,
I threw out the rule
I’d been taught
About drinking just one can
Of soda
Every day.

I remember that choice,
Every detail.
Every thought.

And I don’t regret
Having made that choice
At all.

For I’ve never had a problem
With alcohol.
Unlike so very many
In my family’s
History.

I remember.
Clearly.
The day I made that choice.
It happened
The first year I ever worked
In a world I never made.

1976.
It was in early October.
I’d managed to get
My very first job.
Working in a grocery store.
As a grocery bagger.
A generic name.
For a generic job.
A job in which
You could end up doing
Damn near anything.

Like straightening out
The contents of
The freezer isle.

Do you have any idea
How frakkin’ cold
500 half gallon boxes
Of ice cream really is?
Momma…
My fingers still remember that.
Even after all these years.

Back then,
Soda was dirt cheap.
Less than 50 cents
A can
Out of vending machines.
And the store had one.

I’d been working
All afternoon.
Into the evening.
I was helping
Close the store.
When I decided
I was thirsty.
And took a time out
To grab a drink.
And chug that drink down
While I was working.

No one minded
In the least.

But as I went
To get my drink,
I remember exactly
What I thought.

I thought
Of my family
History.
Our ingrained abuse
Of alcohol.
I thought of the problems
So very many
In my family
Had had with that.
Going back
For centuries.

I knew then
That a person shouldn’t drink
3 or 4,
Or 5 or 6
Cans of soda
Every day.
That doing that
Would not be a good thing.

But I knew also
About the dangers
Of drinking even one
Alcoholic beverage
In my family.

So I stood there for a moment.
Having bought a soda
From the vending machine.
With that cold grape soda
In my hand.
Feeling the coldness
Of the can.

And I remember thinking,
“I don’t care
If it’s wrong.
And it will hurt me
In the long run.
I’m going to let myself
Drink all the soda
I want to.
Because it beats the hell
Out of drinking
Alcohol.”

That on that night,
Working in that store,
I threw out the rule
I’d been taught
About drinking just one can
Of soda
Every day.

I remember that choice,
Every detail.
Every thought.

And I don’t regret
Having made that choice
At all.

For I’ve never had a problem
With alcohol.
Unlike so very many
In my family’s
History.