#ThursThreads Week 411 : Do I Know You?

I recognized her the moment my eyes spotted her. How could I ever forget her? She had triggered the greatest set of changes in my life. I had been normal. Thirty years of a career, depended on, recognized for my talents. Life was calm and quiet. Then she showed up, and it all came apart.

“Sweet Jesus!” was my first thought, followed by “I should not have come here.”

I noticed a hint of recognition on her face when she spotted me. At that point, I knew it was time to deal with the last vestiges of what had been. To finally end her story in my life.

It had been ten years. I’d had to start life over in so many ways. New job, new friends, new everything. Years of psychotherapy and multiple day panic attacks, wondering if I’d ever recover, if I’d ever become functional in life again.

She had known me before all that, when I was the guy with the 30 year career, and a knack for fixing problems in everyone else’s programs.

I wasn’t that guy anymore. I’d never be that guy again.

Eventually she made her way over, “Do I know you?”

“Yes, Robin, you do.”


I nodded, “You knew who I was 10 years ago. You don’t know me now.”

She smiled that smile that had wrecked so much havoc in my life. “Perhaps, finally, it’s time to meet you again.”

All I could think was, “Frack…”

243 Words

It’s Week 411 of #ThursThreads, hosted by Siobhan Muir. And more words in whatever it is that’s writing itself have turned up. Please go read all the entries in this week’s #ThursThreads. They are always fun to read. And there are some great writers who show up every week.


I Never Told Anyone

Today, at psychotherapy, I finally said something I’ve never said. And it’s something I need to get into the open. So, I’m going to put it here. My doctor said this is one of those things that older far beyond my years, and certainly was beyond my years when I said it the first time.

I can’t remember if I was in 6th or 7th grade. Yeah. That long ago. Dad had just finished a big project at his work, and I got to see the finished document he’d written. It was a stack of paper, notebook sized, a good inch and a half thick, maybe two. He was proud of it, and I knew to write something that size took a lot of time and effort.

But I heard my thoughts back then. It was years before I finished burying them. Back then, I’d just started burying things. And that day, I heard my terrified thoughts. The work he’d shared didn’t terrify me. Neither did his pride in having completed that work. No. What terrified me was what I saw in him, and the people he worked with.

They were all practically dead. In lives that didn’t change. On career paths. However you wish to define it. Every aspect of their lives matched a plan each of them had made years, perhaps decades, earlier. Many of them were in their 30s. As I watched them, I knew they would never really change. Never really do anything other than what they were already doing.

They’d stopped growing. Stopped changing. Stopped learning. Stopped exploring. They’d grown up, and there was no room in their lives for such childish pursuits. They had responsibilities.

If someone was a Marine, he’d stay a Marine. If Navy, they’d stay Navy. If civilian contractor, or civil servant, they’d always be that. If someone was an administrative assistant, they’d always be assisting someone.

It was the first time I understood how life in our social system worked. That’s what terrified me. And I heard my mind, screaming, “I’m not going to be dead at 30! I’m not going to be like them!”

Of course, I can say this all I want. I can share it. I can talk about it. But sharing it is useless, because, as I’ve said before, no one will understand. Oh, there will be some that understand. There always are, always have been, always will be. But many people will never understand what I saw that day, or how I felt about it.

My doctor and I talked about many things today, centered around that thought.

I told him if you ever want to see the true nature of someone, murder their smart phone. Break it, and watch what happens to them. Watch as they go crazy. “Do you know, there are guys out there, if their phone shuts off, and they can’t turn it on, I wouldn’t be surprised if they throw that sucker through the drywall.” Yeah. I said that.

“Same with their computers. Or their video games. Or NetFlix. Or the Internet.”

I reminded him of the study I’d talked about a couple of weeks ago. The one about 67% of men in the study electing to endure a painful electric shock to get out of sitting still, in a room, by themselves, for 15 minutes, with no electronic devices. Yeah. That’s right. Put a guy in a room with nothing but a chair, and a button that administers an electric shock to himself, and tell him he can leave after 15 minutes, or he can shock the shit out of himself, and he’ll shock the shit out of himself.

And that’s when the lightbulb turned on over my head, and I said, “Holy crap!”

My doctor knows exactly what I mean when I say, “Holy crap!” I’d just had an epiphany. I’d just realized something. Or, as I like to express it, another piece of the puzzle of life finally fit into the puzzle.

“They’re escaping, aren’t they.” It wasn’t a question. It was a statement. I was reciting a fact. “They’re escaping from their lives. That’s why they go crazy when their phones die. Why they spend hours glued to NetFlix, watching streaming media. Why they bury themselves in video games. They’re escaping the misery they live in. And when they can’t escape, and have to sit silently for a while, they can’t. They’ll shock themselves to escape. So they don’t have to deal with who they are. What their lives have become. The truth that they’re all walking dead.”

My doctor and I spent a lot of time talking about that today. About how people try to escape.

I know. I hear the voices screaming, “It takes one to know one!” and “Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!” Yeah. Most people will never understand, I know. I’m flawed. I’m guilty. I’m not perfect.

On my drive home, I listened to my music, playing through the car stereo. I turn it to 24 on the power meter when I’m in the car alone. I can feel the door panels shake in time with the music. I can see the rear view mirror vibrate as the sound waves move it around just a touch. I can feel the music through every cubic inch of me.

It’s my escape. From the misery. My own personal misery. Of dealing with a world I don’t understand, and never made.

But, what happens when that music goes away. In May, 2012, it did. I got dunked in some rapids leading to a waterfall. The camera I owned at the time drowned. It never worked again. The MP3 music player I owned also drowned, and never played another note from any music. It never turned on again. My cell phone took days (at least 3) to dry out. I was without any of those devices for days.

This happened on day two of a five-day camping trip. We had no TV. No Internet. No electricity. And pretty much no cell phone service. It would have wrecked many of the people I know, and have known in life.

I did OK. I was happy to get a new player, a few days after we got home. I was happy when my phone started working, also a day or two after we got home. I was happy when we replaced my dead camera in July of 2012.

I survived without them. And I can survive without them now.

I know people who would shrivel up like grapes turning into raisins if they had to endure such an ordeal. I know people who can’t live without being on their cell phone, on Facebook, or Twitter, or being able to watch another movie on their phone, to kill the time.

Time they can’t face on their own.

Because, if they had to face it, they’d have to face their lives. They’d have to face themselves. They’d have to deal with who they are.

And I see people like them every day. People who will do anything to escape themselves.

“I don’t want to be dead at 30! I won’t be like them!”

I never told anyone.

Until today.

Here’s a link to the study I mentioned.

Study: People Would Rather Suffer Electric Shock Than Sit Silently

#FinishThatThought 45 : You Should’ve Stayed On The Path

“You should’ve stayed on the path.”

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard those words. It wouldn’t be the last. I’d make certain of that. “No.”

Tim gave me that exasperated look. You know. The one people give you when you are different from them, don’t share their values, or their view of life. “What about your future? Your career?”

“My career, as you know it, is dead.” I always loved seeing someone’s face when I said such inflammatory things. To me, they were normal things to say. Truthful things to say. To someone like Tim, they were disruptive, intimidating, aggressive, and scary.

“You don’t mean that.”

I laughed. “Yeah. I do.”

“You’ll be throwing everything away.”

“I’d explain everything,” I smiled, and shook my head, “but you’d never understand.”

“Try me.”

How do you tell someone they are walking along a path to a dead-end? How do you explain to someone they’re doing what their parents did. What their grandparents did. What their great grandparents did. Generation, after generation. The same path. The same life. The same pursuits, passions, goals, definitions.

“I told you once,” I knew trying to explain was useless, “everyone here, you, the people who work for you, the people you work for. You’re all the same. The same dreams, goals, hopes, fears, everything.” It was really sad to think about it. To understand how Tim didn’t even know.

“You know that feeling you get sometimes? The one you get when you look in the mirror? The one that doesn’t last long, maybe a minute, maybe less? The one that says everything’s wrong?” I had to laugh. “Yes, Tim. I know about that feeling. The one you never can admit it there. The one you can never feel.”

Tim sat there. He didn’t speak. He didn’t move. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he stopped breathing, and if his heart stopped beating.

“Yeah, Tim. That one. The one that says everything is wrong.”

“You should have stayed on the path.”

“I know, Tim. It’s what we do. We stay on the path. We behave.” I couldn’t tell him what he already knew. How we what we’re supposed to do. Be what we’re supposed to. Get married. Have a family. Buy a house. Buy cars. Have a respectable job, and a steady, predictable income. Be in control of life. With everything organized. Everything planned. Just like our parents. And, by God, that’s how we’ll make our children.

“That’s why I’ve left the path. And I’m not coming back.”

Too bad Tim would never understand.

427 Words

I wrote this for Week 45 of Alissa Leonard‘s Finish That Thought. Please, go read all the creatively shared stories in this week’s challenge.

#MWBB 15 – Take It As It Comes

I took another step. Followed by another. Followed by 10,000 more. I walked. I walked for miles. For two hours. During that two hours, everything changed. All the anger I felt surfaced. I walked with clenched fists. At times my lips drew back like a snarling dogs. I’d have growled, if I could.

The anger burned within me. Racing through my blood. I remembered everything. The way people pretended to care about me while they forced me out of work, sent me home on leave, ordered me to have no contact of any kind with anyone. All the while telling me, “We want you to get better.” As if ripping someone’s heart to shreds would make them better.

Always the anger burned. But after a thousand or two thousand steps, it began to fade. My fists unclenched. My snarl faded. And my fear surfaced. I was afraid. Hell, I was terrified. Who wouldn’t be? I was out on medical leave. Not one broken bone. Not one stitch. Hell, I didn’t even have bruise. Except on my heels from walking stupid distances. But I was OK with that.

I wasn’t OK with being out of work. Being at home. I’d lost my job. I’d lost my career. I’d lost everything. I knew that. It was my worst nightmare, come to life. And the people I depended on, and worked with every day for years had made that decision. They hadn’t even warned me. They hadn’t said anything. They’d waited until I was out of town, on vacation, to make the decision.

They didn’t have the heart to tell me to my face.

No one ever returned when they got sent home. No one ever had. It was the kiss of death. The end. I’d end up unemployed. Everyone knew that. I knew that. And I had no idea what to do. I’d had that job, that career, for 28 years. I didn’t know how to do anything else.

And no one I’d worked with would ever talk with me again. Me. The one that came apart. The only one that came apart. Everyone else was fine. Happy. Professional. Working. And I’d come apart so badly, they’d even requested I never speak to them.

What does it feel like when everyone you see every day is suddenly gone?

As I walked, the fear faded. And my depression surfaced. The depression that got me sent home. The anxiety that caused my pulse to race, my hands to shake like tuning forks. And all I wanted was for the hurt I felt to end. Bruised heels, blistered toes, and me walking miles and miles, and I didn’t even feel the pain my feet were in. All I felt was the ache, the agony, of my heart and soul.

It wasn’t until my depression surface, and faded, that I could finally breathe. I could finally feel. The moment I was in. I could see the sky, and the clouds in it. I could feel the breeze, and the warmth of the sun. I could feel the cold of the winter. I could hear the birds. It wasn’t until I’d walked through all the hurt, the fear, the anger, that I found myself.

It was on those walks I finally learned to live.

471 Words


My entry, in all its unedited glory, for week 15 of Jeff Tsuruoka‘s Mid-Week Blues-Buster flash fiction challenge. Please, go read the other entries in the challenge.

Remembering The Pain

There’s an old saying
Almost everyone knows.
“If you can remember
How bad you hurt
The last time you did that.
You’re not ready
To try again.”

And I sometimes wonder
How badly I got hurt.
Because after two solid years
There are things
I refuse to pick up.
Things I just don’t do.
That I did.
Right up until the end
Of the life I had before.

To this day,
I find it very difficult
To even think
About those things.
Much less
Actually do them.

I haven’t written
A single line of code
For anything.
In two solid years.
And every time I think
About doing so,
My hands begin to shake.
And I remember.

I remember October,
Of 2010.
I remember November
And December too.

So it would seem
That I’m not ready yet
To pick up the things
I used to do.
To used the skills
I carefully developed.
And crafted.
And grew.
For nearly 30 years.

But that’s OK.
I know someday.
When the time is right.
When I’m ready.

I’ll take out  my skills,
And I’ll use them
Once again.

It’ll be like sharpening the blade
Of a knife that’s been stored
Of several years.
That’s grown dull with age.

I’m almost to that point.
I know that.
I can feel it
In my bones.
I can tell by how very long
It’s taking me to decide
What I want to do.
What classes
I wish to take.

I don’t want a career.
Not in the sense
That it’s defined
By damn near everyone.

I’ve had one of those.
It damn near killed me.
And I ask all the time,
Why would I want another?
Why would I want
To go through that again?

Yet, I have to wonder
Every now and then.
How badly was I hurt
In the work I did before
So that it’s taken me 2 years
So far,
And I still can’t do the things
I did at work
Back then,
Without remembering
The pain?

In Transition – Sunday, 10 June 2012

Well. This is one of those mornings that I wish I could avoid. One of those mornings when I wish I didn’t have to hear the questions echoing in my head. One of those mornings when parts of me are confused, and parts of me are tired, and parts of me are feeling things I just don’t understand.I used to have a normal job. Working 40 hours a week. With benefits. Like vacation. And holidays. And even sick days. And I made 4 times what I make now. But. That all changed. That all ended. 20 months ago.

I work at Best Buy now. In a part-time job. And I can’t help but feel that there are people who think I should be doing something else. Something “more worthy” of a person with my skills, and experience.

Trouble is, I don’t really know what I want to do. Other than write. I’ve learned that writing’s part of me. Part of my heart and soul. When I don’t write, I’m not OK. And it shows.

Yes, I’ve got technical skills. I can, if I take the time, and put in the effort, make a computer do pretty much anything I want it to. 29 years of writing and maintaining software applications on computers of all kinds demonstrates that. And those skills do show when I am helping customers at the counter of Geek Squad. Even the other people on Geek Squad have noticed them.

But I feel as if that part of my life is over. Done. Ended. That I’ve played that game of employment. That I’ve put in my time, living within the confines of that type of work. And that I don’t want to be restrained that way any more. I’ve already said I won’t ever work in the Defense Industry again. I didn’t say that lightly. The nature of that industry wounds me. And the wounds don’t heal. They build. Layer on top of layer. Until I come apart. As I did 20 months ago.

I’ve spoken with my lady. About taking classes at TCC. “What type of classes do you think I should take?” She knows me. She answered. Saying I should take the type of classes that interest me.

It’s hard to have patience with myself sometimes. Hard to start over. From nothing. Hell, I’m 53 years old. I’m not supposed to be starting from nothing, am I? I’m supposed to be at the peak of my career. Right? That’s what everyone thinks, isn’t it?

And somehow, I’m between two lives. That career that I’m supposed to be in, and doing so well in. It’s over. Done. Ended. And I find myself thinking, “Is this what life is like for people who retire? Do they wonder what to do? How to pass the time?”

When I take the time to explore the jobs market, and the reported earnings for various jobs, I find that what I’m earning per hour at Best Buy is actually above the median earnings per hour for a retail employee. So, I can’t complain about my current income. I look at the median income for various other categories of work. And I find they range from $10 an hour to $20 an hour.

So, the odds of me having an income that even begins to approach what I had in the career that’s over, are almost non-existent. At the best, I might find something where I can earn half of what I did. But… Do I want to?

That’s the question I face now. The question most people consider answered in college. When they plan what they will do with the rest of their lives, as a member of our society. That’s how things are supposed to work.

But things change, don’t they. And the economy has changed. And is changing. I know plenty of people my age that have had their careers come to an end. And not by choice. They got laid off. Let go. And then spent months trying to get back into the same type of work they were doing. Some of them have been laid off twice now. Some even more. Because things are changing.

So, I work at Best Buy. I like to think of it as a “sustenance income”. Where I’m bringing in the money I have to bring in. And while in that job, I can explore the question, “What do I want to do with the rest of my life?” I can explore the question, “Where do you want to be in a year?”

Perhaps it’s time for me to take some classes at TCC. And explore new things. Perhaps that’s where I am in life. In a holding pattern. An in-between time. When I’m supposed to rest. And heal the wounds of the past. Exploring other parts of life. Until I find where I’m supposed to be. What I’m supposed to do. Until I can find answers to the questions that I have at this point in life. Until I have an answer to the question, “What next?”

Perhaps this is where I’m supposed to be. Having finished the career I was supposed to have. Having earned the opportunity to change. To learn. To live. And to explore life. Finding out who I really am. And what my dreams are. What I wish to do, and who I wish to be.

I’ll take a look at the classes offered at TCC. And this fall, I’ll take one or two. That just may be the next step for me to take as I cross this gap between what I once was, and what I am to be. I don’t have to panic. I have time. For once. I have time.