I Intend To Find Out

My doc asked me a tough question today. “Mark. Don’t tell me what you think. Turn off the logic. Turn off the reasoning. Tell me how you feel about that.”

I couldn’t.

Yeah. Me. I couldn’t. Me, the guy with all the words, and I couldn’t say how I felt. “Angry. Hurt, Wounded.” I rambled on, single words leaking through the filters in my head. “Denied.”

Denied.

And it’s not the denial everyone knows about, everyone understands. I’m not denying the truth. I’m not denying evolution exists, or the universe is 13 billion years old. Nothing like that. I’m not denying people consider me their friend. Not denying I’m good at what I have elected to do in my life.

I’m denying me. What I feel. I’ll start my explanation with a story, like I always do.

When I was in 8th grade, we moved from Annapolis, Maryland, to Chesapeake, Virginia. With the move came a change in school systems, and a change in available classes. On the day my Father took me to Deep Creek Middle School, to register for classes, and continue my 8th grade education, I had to make decisions about classes. On the spot, in the moment decisions.

One of those decisions was specific to Math. In Annapolis, I’d been taking “Introduction to Algebra.” Chesapeake didn’t offer Introductory Algebra. So, I had to make a choice. Take regular 8th grade math, which everyone knew I’d cake walk through. Or, take Algebra. Real Algebra. Where I was 6 weeks behind the class.

I suppose a sensible human would have taken 8th grade math. But a sensible human would not have raced through the decision process I went through. I didn’t think about myself, and what I was capable of, or what I wanted to do. I didn’t consider being afraid of taking Algebra. My decision process was very direct. I considered my Mother, and my Father, and what would make them proud of me.

I picked Algebra.

By the time I was in 8th grade, my decision process already denied what I felt and wanted. What I felt and wanted was expendable. What I did was what I believed made those I felt were the important people in my life proud of me, happy with my decisions.

I told my doctor, today, I buried what I felt in my backyard, so it was hidden, and no one could see it, or find it. Not even me.

There are many more stories. I shared another one with my Doc today. Told him why I decided to get his help, and start therapy. It wasn’t a decision I made. The truth is I didn’t want to find help. Because I knew, if I found help, I’d have to deal with everything.

What did I do? How did I end up finding my Doc? I sent three e-mail messages. One to Gina. One to Judy. One to Lorrie. Three messages to the three people I trusted at work. I didn’t ask my family. I didn’t ask my friends. I couldn’t. Don’t ask me to explain why. I can’t. I don’t know why.

I cut a deal with myself. If I got no responses to the e-mails, or if I got three negative responses, or three, “It’s your choice to make” responses, I would avoid therapy. If a single response from one of those three messages said, “Yes,” I’d get help.

All three responses came back positive, declaring I needed to get help.

I kept my end of the bargain. I got help.

I’ve been asking myself lots of questions these past few weeks, because I’ve known I had another step to take in my life. Another journey to make. More to explore. And today, I’ve started into that strange world.

I don’t know what I feel. I know basic things. I know when I’m hungry. I know when I’m tired, even though I don’t always admit I am. I know when I’m in physical pain, though I don’t always admit how much.

But I don’t know what I feel.

“How do you feel about that, Mark?”

“I don’t know.”

I want to write. More than I can explain. More than I can understand. It’s an irrational thing. It doesn’t make sense. There’s not a procedure for writing. Read ten books on how to write a novel, and you still won’t know how. Writing is a personal thing. I don’t write the same way you do. I don’t write the same way my writing friends do. I write my way. My friends each write their own way.

But writing also frustrates me. Hell, it infuriates me. Because it’s not predictable. I can’t tell what I’m going to write. When I sit down to write a flash fiction story for a weekly challenge, I don’t know what will happen next. I don’t know what I’ll write.

What I write could be funny, scary, moving, touching, frightening, or infuriating. It could even be about butterflies and ants and other insects, long after humans have followed the dinosaurs into oblivion. I don’t snap my fingers, and presto, words appear on my computer screen.

In that same way, I don’t know what I feel. Oh, I know if I’m happy, or sad, excited, or bored, I now the obvious. Just don’t ask me how I feel about something. Don’t ask, “How do you feel about that, Mark?” Because I can’t answer. Because I don’t know.

And it’s going to take a while for me to change what I learned so long ago, when I learned to deny myself. When I learned to bury what I felt. When I learned to say, “I don’t care how I feel. I’ll do what I need to.” When I learned my feelings were expendable.

And they were.

Until 4 years ago.

When everything I buried in the backyard started surfacing, and I couldn’t stop it.

I wonder who I am.

I intend to find out.

The Old Guy Sat At The Bar

Jason pulled back the bar stool, and had a seat. The bartender quickly found him, and asked what he wanted to drink.

“Seven and Seven,” Jason quietly, politely asked.

The bartender wandered off to mix his drink, and the old man sitting at the bar, in the chair next to Jason smacked his empty glass on the shiny hardwood surface. “Oh, yeah! That’s good stuff.”

Jason thought of moving. He didn’t want to sit next to anyone loud, or anyone in a group. Before he could, the bartender returned with his drink, “Seven and Seven,” he placed the drink on a tiny napkin in front of Jason, then turned to the old man, “You want another round?”

The old man didn’t speak, he smiled and nodded yes, and the bartender wandered off again.

The old man looked through Jason. He had those kind of eyes, the ones that see past all the lies, the games, the masks people put on every day. The ones that see your soul, and know the truth of who and what you are.

“Had a fight with your girl, did you?” Jason started to get up, but the old man kept talking, “Nobody won, did they?”

Jason stayed on his stool, and stared back at the old man. He’d always thought he was a good judge of character, but when he looked at the old guy, he saw no lies, no masks. He saw the face and eyes of someone who’d lived live. Someone who’d seen life. Someone who knew.

“Yeah. We had a fight.”

The old guy took a deep breath. “Money?”

Jason nodded.

“Yeah. It’s always money, ain’t it?” Jason picked up his drink, and chugged half of it down. “So, you’re gonna drown it all, ain’t ya?”

Jason let his drink glass reconnect to the bar with a loud smack. “Yep. We just broke up.” He picked up his drink, and drained it, then smacked the glass down again. “And I’m gonna forget all about her!”

The old guy laughed. “Gonna let a fight about money destroy love and happiness?” He shook his head. “Yep. You’re an idiot.”

Jason, jaw dropped and he stood up, “What!”

“Sit down, and shut up. And maybe I can talk you out of making the same stupid mistake I made when I was young and full of hormones, and emotions, and pride, just like you are now.”

Jason couldn’t help himself. He sat down.

The bartender plunked new drinks in front of them both. The old man stared at his. “See,” he took a long chug. “I was in love once.”

“Hasn’t everyone?”

“Yeah.” The old guy finished his drink. “Yeah, everyone has.” He laughed. “But the smart ones stay in love.”

Jason shook his head. “You don’t know what she said, what she did.”

“I don’t need to.” He didn’t smile. There was something in his eyes, some memory, some regret, and perhaps a wish he could go back in time. “I was in love once.”

“What happened?”

“We had a fight.” He waved at the bartender, “Another round for us, Bill.” Then he shook his head, and stared at the reflections of light in the polished wood of the bar. “We had a stupid fight.”

Both men sat, waiting for their drinks. When they arrived, the old guy wrapped a hand around his glass, but didn’t lift it. Jason watched him stare into the liquid swirling in the glass. “I was too young, too stubborn, too idealistic.” Jason stared at his own glass. “I hadn’t figured out the truth. And I didn’t want to know the truth.”

“The truth?” Jason stared at his drink, picked it up, and took a swallow. He felt the familiar burn of the alcohol in his throat, and the warmth in his stomach.

The old man told him the truth, “She said a lot of things about you, didn’t she.” Jason nodded. “She called you irresponsible. She called you immature. She told you to grow up.”

Jason nodded, “Yeah. Something like that.”

“Hurt, didn’t it.”

“Hell yeah.” Jason took another swallow. “And she knew it. She let me have it with both barrels.” He looked at the old guy, “Why should I put up with that? That’s it, you know. We’re done.”

Jason thought the old man wanted to cry, but maybe the old guy had forgotten how. “What do you know about fights? About couples?” He looked around the bar, Jason did the same. “You know how many couples break up these days?”

Jason shook his head.

“Damn near all of ‘em.” The old guy took a chug of his drink. “Damn near all of ‘em.” He stared into his drink again, “And nobody stays married forever anymore.” Jason stared at his drink, and the old guy asked, “How long were your parents married?”

“Still are.”

“How long?”

Jason shrugged. “Twenty-five, twenty-six years? I don’t really know.”

“Have you ever wondered how they stay married?”

“No.” Jason took another swallow. “Never thought about that?”

“So. How do you think they stay married?” Jason sat silently. He didn’t have an answer. He’d never really thought about it. “Did they ever fight?”

Jason remembered the nights he heard them screaming at each other. The nights he heard the front door slam as his father left. The night his mother cried herself to sleep, and his father came home, and slept on the sofa. “Yeah. They did.”

“Why did they stay together?”

He didn’t have an answer. He’d never thought about it.

“You like music, right?”

“Yeah. A good band is good. But they always break up.”

“All of them?”

“No. Not all of them.”

“Why not?”

“It’s not the same thing, you know. It’s not.”

The old man finished off his drink. “Bill. I’m gonna need another.”

“You’re gonna need a cab.”

“Yeah. That too.”

“Let me know when, and I’ll call one.”

The old guy nodded, and resumed his conversation with Jason. “Why isn’t it the same?”

“Bands and couples. They’re not the same.”

“Now you just think about that a bit. And then think about how they are the same.” Jason shook his head. “Don’t band members fight?”

“Yeah, but it’s over a band. It’s not like when a couple has a fight.”

“You saying the band members aren’t family?” Jason stared into his drink. His mind struggled to make sense of the old guy’s words. “You saying families don’t have fights and break up, just like bands do? You saying they stick together for fame and money, and not because they’re a family?”

The old guy shook his head, and tipped his drink again. “I was just like you. Thought fights weren’t supposed to happen to people in love. To friends.” He gently placed his glass on the bar. “I was so fuckin’ stupid.”

He leaned toward Jason, “Dude. Fights happen. You put two people together, and sooner or later, fights happen.” He put his hand on Jason’s shoulder. “The smart ones figure that out, and learn to get past the fights.”

He remembered his parents, the morning after the fights. They didn’t act like nothing happened. They talked. Quietly. They apologized to each other. And their lives went on. Together.

“Fights happen. It’s not an ideal world. Not a dream world.” The old guy stared at his empty glass. “I used to love her. Probably still do. Had a fight with her. About money.” He took a deep breath, then slowly let it out. “I’ve been alone since then.” He looked at Jason. “She was my girl. My one chance at love. My one chance at being happy.” They guy looked at the floor. “And I fucked it up. Me, and my pride. She’d hurt me in that fight. And I couldn’t get over it.” He took another deep breath. “I couldn’t let it go.”

Jason said nothing. What was there to say?

The old guy smiled. “If you’ve got any brain cells in that head of yours, well. You’ll figure the rest out.”

Jason excused himself. He went to the quiet hallway outside the restrooms, where the pay phones were, pulled out his smart phone, swallowed his pride, and called her.

The old guy sat at the bar, and smiled. “I’m gonna need another one, Bill.”

#MWBB 31 : LA Song

I helped her pack her suitcase. I helped her fold all her clothes, carefully picking the ones she wanted to take with her, leaving the ones she no longer wanted neatly folded, placed in boxes on the closet floor. We put a small makeup kit together for her, with her favorite nail polishes, lipsticks, eye shadow, blush. We put her favorite jewelry in little boxes, and stacked them neatly between her clothes and the side of the suitcase.

We talked. About where she was going. She had so much to say. She told me of all her heart breaks, all the men she’d loved and lost. How she’d cried countless tears each time, and wondered if her heart would ever heal.

She told me again, all the stories of the girls at work. The way they treated her. The way they tortured her. Always talking about how they were all engaged, or married, or had a baby on the way. How she wasn’t one of them. I calmly wiped the tears of anger from her eyes, wishing I could find a way to stitch her cut and bleeding soul back together. Wishing God would give me a way to take those wounds from her, make them mine, so she didn’t have to endure the way her heart ached, or the tears I knew her soul cried every night.

She told me how the men of LA were heartless. Soulless. Colder than any ice. Harder than any stone. How all they wanted was another bitch they could lay. Another trophy on the mantle. Another name in their black books. She told me no one slept with her because they loved her. But because she had boobs, and an ass, and her vagina. And that’s all they wanted. To get into her vagina. And I held her again, as she cried more tears of rage, and tears of pain.

The tears of a child. A little girl. Whose world got destroyed before her eyes. Whose dreams got crushed beneath the boots of a world that wasn’t at all like it she’d hoped it would be.

I carried her suitcase, and makeup kit to my car. Put them in the trunk. I opened the door, and let her in. Knowing it wouldn’t do for me to cry. It wouldn’t do for me to say anything. Knowing she trusted me to help her.

Knowing she was walking out of my life. And I might never see her again.

I wanted to kiss her. To beg her, “Don’t leave me!” I wanted to tell her how much I loved her. How I wanted to make her happy. Make her smile. Do everything I could to bring her dreams to life. But I couldn’t. Not because I didn’t have the courage, or the heart. Because I knew, my heart knew, she needed to go. She needed to escape.

I knew. I had to let her go.
I drove to the bus station. I paid for her ticket. “I promise not to follow you.”

She handed me her phone. “I can’t take this with me.”

“I know.”

I wanted to tell her she was leaving for all the wrong reasons. Because she was hurt. Because she was afraid. Because she was running from herself. From her life here, in LA. Trying to escape herself. Trying to blame LA, work, the men she’d known, for her inability to live with herself. That it wouldn’t work. She was taking what she was afraid of with her. She couldn’t escape herself.

I didn’t. It wouldn’t have worked.

Instead, I let her go. I watched the bus disappear into the traffic of LA.

I let her go.

And I prayed, one day, she’d find herself. And remember me.

627 words
@LurchMunster


This is my entry for week 31 of Jeff Tsuruoka‘s Mid-Week Blues-Buster flash fiction challenge. Please, go read the other entries in the challenge.

Play It Loud (VIII)

I play my music loud tonight.
I play my music long.
I play my music in the dark.
Sitting all alone.

Sometimes
I must be free.
Sometimes
I must escape.
If only for a little while.
If only for a moment.
If only for a few heartbeats
In the life I’ve been blessed with.

Sometimes
I play my music loud
So I can’t hear anything.
Only my music exists.

Sometimes
I play my music in the dark
So I can’t see
The world in which I live.

Sometimes
I play my music loud
To escape
From this world
I never made.

Sometimes
I wish there was a way
I could show you what I see
In this life
Every day.

Sometimes
I wish there was a way
For you to feel the things
I feel
Each day.

Sometimes
I wish you could know
The pain,
The hurt,
Of facing yet another day
In the grip
Of the depression
That runs my life.

It never goes away.
It’s always there.
I see it in the mirror.
Looking out a me
From my own eyes.

It touches everything.
Like a poison vine run wild.
Choking everything it touches.
Slowly.
Inexorably.
Relentlessly.
Every day.

I try to tell myself
It’s OK.
It’s like the story of Paul.
In the Bible.
Where he says God won’t take away
That thing that curses him.
That thorn in his side.

I wish you could understand.
There is no magic pill
I can take.
There is no medicine
That can take my depression away.
No surgery to perform.

All I can do
Is live with it.
Every day.
And manage it.
With the help of my doctors.
My weekly therapy.
And the medicine
I have to take.

To manage the darkness
That threatens to consume me
With every breath I take.

I play my music loud tonight.
As I sit
In the dark.
Alone.

For I know.
I just need some time.
To escape.
To be free.

From a world I never made.

Before I try once more.
To walk
In the land of gray.

Like The Roses Do

The roses were beautiful.
In so many colors.
White, pink, yellow, red.
And so many more.
Peach, bronze, and silver-pink.
Each rose a work of art
To me.

I wondered as I walked
Through that garden
Filled with roses,
Why humans are so stupid.
Why they can’t even see
What’s right before
Their noses.

The truth was obvious to me.
Just with the roses.
For the roses were so many kinds.
Some grew like vines,
Others like bushes.
Some blooms were tiny,
Maybe quarter sized.
Such works of art they were.
Other roses were whopping big.
With blooms twice the size of my fist.
Blooms I couldn’t even hold
In a single hand.

Roses that had just a few petals,
And were open.
You could see the pistol,
And the pollen
In the heart of them.

Roses that had petals by the dozens.
Tightly packed together.
Layer upon layer.
Like spiral flowers.

Some roses were in full bloom.
Some were not.
Some hadn’t bloomed at all.

Each bush had different leaves.
Some small and tiny,
Packed densely around the stems.
Others had a big leaf,
With saw-toothed edges,
Every now and then.

Some roses bloomed in clumps.
Four, five, or more blossoms
In a single group.
Blooming all at once.

Some bloomed by themselves.
A bloom here.
Another there.
Scattered everywhere.

Some looked like rose bloom families.
A big bloom in the midst
Of an ocean of baby roses
That hadn’t spread their petals
Yet.

The roses came
In more sizes,
Colors
And types
Than I could count.

And I didn’t care at all.
Each rose
Was beautiful.

And I wondered
As I walked
Looking at the roses,
Thanking life
For every bloom.

Why humans are
So very silly,
And so mean,
That they can’t see the beauty
In another human being.
That they have to use
Cruel names,
And unkind words,
To hurt someone
That’s not like them.

Why can’t humans watch the roses
And learn to see the beauty
In diversity.
Like the roses do.

 

Fifteen Years

One day, there she was. We hadn’t seen each other in fifteen years. She was with her spouse. They’d been together 25 years at that point. She recognized me. I’ve been told I never really change. Just age. The lines in my face growing deeper. My hair growing more grey, and ever thinner up top. “Tom?”

I heard her voice. I stopped walking, and turned to look for who had asked my name. I saw her standing there, staring right at me. I didn’t know who she was. “Tom?” she asked again. “Is it you?”

I didn’t speak. My mind was racing through my mental archives. Searching through everyone I’d ever known. Everyone I remembered. Trying to remember people I’d long ago forgotten. She spoke as if she knew me. “Tom. It’s me. Barbara.”

I tilted my head to the side. “Barbara?” My mind searched for that name. I’d only known two people with that name in my 65 years on Earth. One in high school. One from the land of work. A land I’d exited rather suddenly.

As I stood there I remembered her. “You don’t remember me,” she said. “Do you.”

She was wrong. “I remember.” I wanted to add, “How could I forget?” I didn’t. It wouldn’t have been right. I’d come to realize in the years after my exit from the working world, I’d hurt her. I’d never meant to. But I had. It took me years to figure out what I’d done. And how my coming apart had hurt her.

I still didn’t really understand what I’d done. How what I’d done had caused so much damage. I only knew it had. I had.

“You look well,” I threw out a phrase I’d learned through the years. Something I knew people said to each other. It was a social skill I didn’t have. One I could mimic, but I couldn’t understand it. Small talk. “You look happy.”

She smiled. “It’s been a long time.”

I knew how long. I’m like that. I remember dates. Times. Events. Like the date and pretty close to the time of day I’d met my wife. The date, and time each of our children were born. Dates my mind considered important always remained in my mind. I could never forget them.

I could never forget the dates tied to her. The date she told me she was ill. The date the people at work had sent me home, forcing me out on leave. The date those same people declared I was never to talk with any of them again. For any reason. So many dates.

I remembered other dates. The one I’d told her I’d take her out on a boat, on the river, any day she asked, for as long as she wanted to go. The date I’d told her I’d send her a picture of a rose once a week until she got well. The date she’d come back to work after her first round of surgery. So many dates.

“15 years. Give or take,” I’d learned to fuzzy up the answer. I’d learned imprecision. Precision upset people. It disturbed them. Made them uncomfortable.

“How’ve you been?” She smiled as she asked. I remembered her smile. And her eyes. Both still reached right to my soul, touching my heart. I knew I could still forget everything just by looking into her eyes, seeing her smile.

She’d never understood, I knew that. No one ever had understood. Except my family. And my doctor. They knew. They understood me. They knew I loved Barbara. They knew I believed she was my friend. Someone I never wanted to hurt. Someone I would help any way I could.

Barbara never understood that kind of love. Learning I cared for her, learning I loved her scared her. She backed away. And everyone that knew both of us acted to keep her safe from me. Now, there she was. Standing an arm’s length away from me. Smiling.

I took a chance. I glanced, briefly, into her eyes. Then, I looked at her husband. I smiled at him, and extended my hand. He accepted the gesture. “Good to see you both,” I stated the greeting I’d learned over the years.

I’d promised myself I’d do one thing if I ever saw her again. I’m a lot of things. Disturbing. Disruptive. Confusing. Lost in a social environment. But I always tried to keep my word, and I’d promised myself, and God, I’d apologize to her if I ever saw her again.

I looked back at her eyes. She always had such beautiful eyes. “I’m sorry, you know.”

She just looked at me.

“I never meant to hurt you.”

I looked at him once more. “It’s been good seeing you both. I wish you well.”

With that, I smiled one last time, at her. Then I did what I had to. I turned and walked away. I knew how much I’d changed. I knew she didn’t know who I was. She only knew who I’d once been. I knew too, she’d never understand me, what I’d become, who I’d become. Part of why my time in the working world ended as badly as it did was to protect her. From me.

I wouldn’t take the chance to hurt her again. I would honor the wishes of the people I’d once known, and protect her from me.

So I turned, and walked away.

She Doesn’t Know

I took a chance.
I admit that.
I deliberately broke the rules.
Me, the married guy,
Choosing to sit with her,
The divorced woman.

Everybody knows,
You don’t do that.

I took a chance
To show a friend
How I felt.
What I felt.
About her.
I deliberately broke the rules.
I knew it then.
I understood the risk.

I’ve never been
Much of one
For the rules of life
I see people following.
I suppose it’s because
I’ve seen how those rules
Rip out a person’s heart,
And burn their soul
To ash.

Then I broke one more rule
On that Sunday morning.
I actually put my hand
On one of hers.

I’d say I walked her to her car.
Because that’s what I did.
But I can always claim
I had no real choice.
Her car was between
The church’s doors,
And mine.

There are those that would declare
I knew what I was doing
When I parked where I did.

I can only shake my head.
And wonder.
Will any of them learn?
Will any of them ever change?
Will any of them
Begin to grow again?
Or are they done?

And I know
From the way my heart aches,
And the tears of my soul,
I know.
They never will.
They’re done.
They’re where they want to be.
They’re where they’re safe.
Where they’re secure.

And there,
They choose to stay.

It saddens me to know
She’s that same way.

Unable to acknowledge
What her heart tells her.
She lets no one in.
No one close.
To protect herself.
From pain.

I can understand that.
I really can.
I’ve been hurt myself,
Time and time again.

But that’s all it is.
Hurt,
And pain.
Like when you make that mistake
At the oven now and then
And stand there staring
At your bright red fingertips
As the blisters grow on them
Again.

It happens.

Even the best fall
Every now and then.
Like the time the favorite
For the gold medal
At the Olympics
Never reached the end
Of the race
He was in.

It happens.

I know how badly
She’s been hurt
By events in life.
The one that left her
On her own.
With their daughter.
She raised their child
On her own.

The way people talk
About those women.
You know the kind I mean.
The divorced ones.
Looking for another man.
The ones that might just settle
For a fling.

People are so ready
To believe
Lies and gossip are the truth
When they don’t understand
Something.

It was on the day
She spoke those words to me.
Told me she had an image
She had to maintain.
So people wouldn’t see things
The wrong way.
Wouldn’t say things about her
Behind her back.

She had a reputation
To uphold.

In a church.

Of all things.

It was on that day
I knew.
My days there
Were nearly through.
And the time had come
For me to stand
And walk away.

For I will not live my life
Afraid
Of what the blind,
The ignorant,
The ones afraid of life,
Will say.

Will I get hurt again?
Hell, yes.
I will.
It’s part of life.
Like love,
And laughter,
Tears,
And pain.

You aren’t alive
If you can’t be hurt.
You’re simply hiding.
In a cave.
In a box.
In a little space.
Where all there is to life
Is what’s around you,
What’s in your room.

So you live isolated.
Hidden from the world.
But safe.

The saddest part of all
To me?

She doesn’t know
She lives that way.
No one in those rooms,
Hiding where it’s safe,
Knows at all.

Because nothing they’re afraid of
Gets within those walls.
Nothing can ever change.

I turned and walked away.
Never to return
To that church.
To her world.

But to this day.
And through my life.
If she should ever call,
And ask for any help from me
At all.

I’ll find a way.

Because to me,
She was
And is
My friend.
And my friend
She always will be.

Even thought
She doesn’t know.