Commentary : I Hide

It’s Wednesday. The day I have my weekly session with my doctor. There are several things we agreed about today. Several things I finally said. I’ve avoided saying them for nearly four years.

“This winter tore me up.”

“This winter was hard on a lot of people.”

I felt like saying, “Yeah, doc. I know.” I didn’t. I did what I always do. I thought first. I searched through my scripts. My databases. My knowledge. For the right thing to say. There wasn’t any right thing to say. I was in psychotherapy. And my doc knows how my mind works. He knows what I’m thinking.

“This winter tore me up bad.”

“I know, Mark.”

I thought of her. My spouse. My best friend. She whom I’d willingly die to protect. She without whom I’d be hopelessly lost. “She doesn’t know.”

My doctor nodded. “No. She doesn’t,” he put his papers down. “No one knows.”

“Yeah.”

“You hide.”

“Yeah. I hide.” I’d never admitted that. Never.

“And you’re damn good at it.” He doesn’t smile much, when we’re talking. He didn’t smile then. “You’ve had a lot of practice.”

“Yeah. I hide.” I knew there was no sense in hiding that truth from him. He already knew it. “I always have. I learned to. I had to learn to. I learned to hide. To keep what I feel, what I think, what I believe, hidden. I learned to observe. To tear apart. To analyze. To study. To build programs. Scripts. How to appear normal. How to blend in. Because I learned, if I did that, if I followed the scripts, and blended in, everyone shut the fuck up, and left me the hell alone.”

“I know.”

I wasn’t finished. “They stopped saying, ‘You can’t be like that. You can’t live like that. You can’t be that way.’ They shut up. And left me alone.”

We were silent for a bit. Only a minute. Maybe a hair more. Until I spoke again. “I’m going to take a walk in the morning.”

“Good! You need it.”

“Yeah. I need it.” I sat there, on the sofa in his office, as I have far more times than I can count, and I finally spoke the truth. “I don’t walk 5 and 6 miles because it doesn’t hurt.”

“I know.”

“I walk because I have to walk.”

He sat there, waiting for me to continue. We both knew he’d do that. We both knew why. “I have to walk. It’s how I cope.” I could have stopped there, but it was time to bring the truth out. “It’s how I cope with the anger. The frustration. The stress. Of living in this world.”

“I know. And it’s good. You need to walk.”

“She doesn’t understand. No one understands.”

“I know.”

Yeah. These aren’t the exact words we spoke today. But they’re close. I told him of the time I posted a message on Facebook. “I said no one knows. No one understands. How hard it is for me to keep going. To keep dealing with this.”

It’s true.

No one understands. Oh, people think they do. You have no idea how many people think they do. But, unless you’ve lived through this. Unless you face this in your life. You have no idea.

I the past few years I’ve found a few special people. They understand. They live with this same nightmare, or another nightmare like it.

I hide. Because the truth still stands. If I hide. If I put up a façade. If I blend in, and appear close to normal. People shut up. And leave me alone. They talk to me. They spend time with me. They don’t understand the person they think I am is a lie. Isn’t real. Isn’t me.

She knows I need to walk. She knows there are times I have to walk. She’s even said, “Walk. I’ll be here when you get back.” She knows. And I know it disturbs her. Especially when I’m wounded so visibly she says, “Go for a walk.”

I wish there were words, magic, miracles, anything at all, that would let me explain why I walk to her. Let me show her that I HAVE to walk. And I have to walk for miles. I have to walk, even if it hurts.

Do you know what it’s like to walk seven miles, or more, in August, when the sun is burning the grass, and it hasn’t rained in weeks, and you can see the heat coming off the asphalt streets, and the humidity is so high you feel like you could cut the air with a knife.

Yeah.

It hurts.

But I have to walk.

It’s walk. Or go insane.

You have no idea. You really have no idea. The price I pay. Every day. To live in a world I never made.

#MWBB 21 : Further Up The Road

People lie. Even worse, they believe lies. Like that one, “You reap what you sew.” Yeah, right. Let me tell you about Steve.

It started on a Monday night in December. Steve went grocery shopping. Wearing a $75 shirt, $100 pants, a Rolex watch, and $200 shoes. He was on the prowl, looking for a woman. And it didn’t matter which woman, so long as she looked good.

He talked with countless women in the produce department, “How do I pick out the best cantaloupe?” They showed him how to pick it up, smell the end, squeeze it gently, look for yellow color in the rind. In the liquor department, he’d ask women, “What wine do I need to cook my pork chops with?” and “I need the perfect wine to complement my steak.”

That’s when a woman took pity on him, the poor, helpless male, and helped him do his grocery shopping. They stood in the checkout line together, and he helped her put her groceries in her car. “Thank you for the help.”

They exchanged phone numbers. On Wednesday, he called her, “Let me take you to dinner. I want to, as a thank you for your help Monday night.” At dinner, he picked the wine, poured it for her, and asked if it was OK if he called her now and then.

After a few calls, he asked her out on a Friday night. They went to a movie, always one she picked. They talked about the romantic threads through the movie. How it was a love story, and how they loved those stories. When the movie ended, they went to a restaurant, for a light snack, and a couple of drinks. Then he took her home, and gave her a good-night hug and kiss.

He called her more frequently, asked her on more dates. Even a weekend trip to the amusement park, where they rode all the rides, and watched the shows. They spoke of how talented the dancers were.

Steve carefully grew the relationship with her. Finally telling her, “I like you. It’s fun to do things with you, and spend time with you.”

One night, he took her to a concert. Her favorite band was in town. He got tickets, and they watched the show. When the show was over, he took her home, and she asked him to come in. They cuddled on the sofa, watching TV. She kissed him, long and hard. One thing lead to another, and Steve spent the night.

Steve spent many nights with her. Always in her apartment, never in his.

One night, after a glorious round of sex, bringing his and her fantasies to life, she asked him if he would consider moving in with her.

The next day, Steven didn’t even know her name. She called him, but he ignored the calls. She left him messages on his phone, he deleted them all. She sent him text messages, he deleted them. She sent him pictures and he deleted them too. As far as Steve was concerned, he didn’t know her. It didn’t bother him at all if she had a broken heart. If she had emotional scars. If she grew to hate men, and learned to never trust any of them again.

Steve had gotten what he wanted. Steve had gotten laid.

And on Monday, Steve was in a different grocery store. Wearing that same $75 shirt, $100 pants, $200 shoes, and Rolex watch. Trolling for another woman to satiate his hunger.

No one can remember how many times Steve has done this. How many women he’s taken advantage of. How many he’s slept with, and left. He’s a love ‘em and leave ‘em kind of guy. The lie, of course, is that some day, he’ll get what’s coming to him. But that’s never going to happen. I know that. So do all his friends.

The man’s going to break a lot of hearts before he dies. And that won’t ever mean a thing to him.

670 Words
@LurchMunster


My entry, in all its unedited glory, for week 21 of Jeff Tsuruoka‘s Mid-Week Blues-Buster flash fiction challenge. Please, go read the other entries in the challenge.

Who Are You?

I wonder sometimes
If I know anyone at all.
Or if all I know
Of anyone
Is the image,
The façade,
The carefully crafted lie
They want me to see.

I wonder sometimes
Who you really are.
I know you aren’t really
The person that I see
At work every day.
That’s not really you.
That’s who you believe
The world demands you be.
That’s an image
You have crafted
Carefully, and over time.

An image made to control
What people think of you.
That shows you are responsible.
Professional,
Dependable,
Mature,
Grown up.

You don’t cut your hair
When you want to, do you.
You cut it to maintain
An image
You want people to believe.

You don’t buy the clothing
You want to, do you.
You buy the clothes
You wear each day
To keep that image
In place.

You dress the part each day.
You play the part each day.
You wear the clothes.
Trim fingernails,
Cut hair,
To maintain that image
That everybody knows.

That’s not all there is to you
Is it?
That image?
That lie?

I remember the words
Of the Lenten Rose.
“It’s hard, sometimes.”
The rest was left unspoken.
But I knew,
Even then.
I knew.

It’s hard sometimes
To keep that lie
In place.
That image you believe
The world demands you be.

I remember the words
Of my one time boss.
When he said to me,
“You can’t be like that!”

I knew he was wrong.
I understood what he was saying.
That in the working world
There was only one way
I could be.
That I couldn’t have a heart.
I couldn’t have a soul.
In that world
I had to become
What that world expected of me.

I remember the words
Of the one that left.
Because she couldn’t understand
That I can’t lie.

“I have to manage everything
That happens.
I have to watch the things
I do.
The things my friends do
With me.
So that I control
What other people
Think of me.”

She flat-out said
She has to live a lie.

That’s such a sad thing
Isn’t it.

I know too
Why I’m not in that world
I once lived in.

I can’t live that lie.
Doing so
Damn near killed me.

So, these days,
I wink.
I smile.
I try hard
Not to laugh.
When I encounter you.
Because I know.

The person you show me
Isn’t really
Who you are.

And I wonder these days
If you even know.
Or have you forgotten
Who you are.

And all I really wonder
When I talk with you
Is

Who are you?

#BCF : Month 2, Prompt 1 – It Was All A Lie

BCF_Month_2_Prompt_1_PictureBCF_Month_2_Prompt_1

I wrote this for Business Card Fiction, Month 2, Prompt 1. Please go read all the other entries in this round of Business Card Fiction. They are all well written, well crafted little pieces of art. You can links to them all here:

Business Card Fiction, Month 2, Prompt 1, Judged by J. M. Blackman

The Day After

It’s always the day after an event
That disturbs me the most.
Because.
Usually I’d just let it go at that.
Just say because.
But today,
I try to explain.

I can take the easy way out
And just say,
“It’s an ASD thing.
With my autistic nature,
It’s just the way things are.”
But that doesn’t help anyone.
Certainly not me.

Where to start.
How to explain.
I’ve tried.
I’ve tried for years.
No one understands.

After Columbine.
After the USS Cole.
After Oklahoma.
After 9/11.
After Norway.
After Virginia Tech.
The list is endless.

I always react the same.
I wonder what it is
That everyone around me feels.
Because.
I don’t feel a thing.
Not one damned thing.

My best guess is
It’s an empathetic reaction
That people have.
One of those social skills
I wasn’t born with.
And just can’t seem to learn.

I want to say something.
I do.
But everywhere I go
On the Internet.
Facebook and Twitter too,
It’s all the same.

People saying endlessly,
“My heart bleeds for those of you
Whose lives this storm’s destroyed.”

And I don’t understand.
I don’t understand at all.
Because they were not hurt.
Their lives
Remain unchanged.
How can their hearts bleed
For people they don’t know,
People they have never met,
People a thousand miles away?

I don’t understand at all.

I try.
I do.
I try.

I’ve watched the way people behave.
I’ve listened to the things they say.
I’ve studied their body language.
The moves the make.
The details in the things they do.

I can fake it.
I can imitate it.
I can pretend to feel like them.
I can blend right in.
So no one will know
That I don’t feel a thing.
Not one damned thing.

I end up putting everyone at ease.
Everyone feels better.
Everyone relaxes.
It’s as if their view
Of the world
And how it works,
Just got reinforced.

But I end up in hell.
Wondering how long it will be
Until someone finds out the truth
About me.
That I don’t feel a thing.

It’s not that I don’t care.
It’s not that way at all.
I care for those around me
More than you will ever
Understand.

It’s that to my rational,
Logical,
Linear mind.
The people hurt in an event
Such as the hurricane this week.
Are just like the people living
In Syria.
Being mowed down relentlessly
By their own government.
Or the people that die
Every day.
In car accidents.
Or the children beaten to death
By their own parents.

I don’t know them.

It’s sad,
I know it’s sad.
That these things happen.
I understand that.

And there are times,
Oh, there are times,
When I wish I felt
What other people felt.
So that I could understand,
And know,
Why people react
The way they do
To such an event
As this hurricane.

But instead.
I don’t feel
A single thing.
Not one single thing.

God?
Why did you make me so
Cold?

There Is A Dream I Have

There is a question
That’s haunted me
For years.
One Bruce Springsteen asked.
In a song of his.

“Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true
Or is it something worse”

That question is still there.
In my dreams at night.
I see it in the mirror
Even in broad daylight.

“Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true
Or is it something worse”

I find myself,
At last,
Reaching for a dream.
And wondering
If it’s too late.
And wondering
How many people will get hurt
If I reach for that dream.
If I try
To make a dream
Come true.

At least partially.

But that question,
Asked so very long ago
Remains a question
I have no answer for.

Robert Brown,
Of Abney Park
Sings words that echo
In my heart.
Words I understand
So very well.
About dreams.
And life.

“I’ve packed my bags
Brought back my pride
I’d rather live in rags
Than throw my dreams aside!”

I understand those words
Better than you know.
They haunt me every night.
They ring true
In my changing life.

And I ask myself
Endlessly.
Can I reach for a dream I have,
No matter what it costs,
Or who it hurts?

I have this dream of one day
Writing.
Even though I know
I’d never make a living
Doing that.

I’ll always have to do things
To pay the bills.
To get by
In this life.

And in pursuing that dream
Of writing.
What will happen to the dreams
Of My Lady?
Of my princess bride?

Already,
In the past two years,
All that I’ve been through
Has pushed her dreams aside.

And I just don’t know
If I can find a way
To balance it all out.
So that I can reach
For this dream I have.
And help her
Reach for hers.

But as I search
For answers to the questions
That I have.
Search to find a way
To reach for both my dreams
And hers.

I hear other words
That echo in my heart,
And reach my soul.

“Fear is a natural reaction
To moving closer
To the truth.”

Words from Pema Chõdrõn wrote.
Words I know so well.
Words that always remind me
When I am afraid.

As I am now.

I know that change takes time.
Sometimes,
Lots of it.
And that change
When done well,
And done right,
Doesn’t happen
Overnight.

I know I’m on a journey.
That I have
A rebuilt life.
Built from the ashes,
And the ruins,
Of a life that’s dead and gone.

I’m in a painful transition.
This much I know
Without a doubt.
One that’s nearly
Two years old.
And’s still going on.
Without any end in sight.

And there are things I face
In life.
Of which I am afraid.

What if I never make it.
What if I should fail.
What if my failure
Leads to my lady
Asking the same question
I first heard
So many years ago.
That question I still hear
Even now.

“Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true
Or is it something worse”

Hearts Of Stone

I’d finished walking.
The first walk I’d taken
In four months.
It had been a short walk.
Between 2 and 3 miles.
But I’d needed it.
To break the ice.
And get me moving
Once again.

As I walked,
I couldn’t help but see
The birds
Up in the sky.
And in the trees.

I lost count
Of all the bunnies
Munching out
On grass,
And new grass seeds
That so many of my neighbors
Put out by the bag full
Every spring.

I’ve always wondered why
People seem to think
They have to have
A perfect lawn.

When I got back
From my walk,
I cooled down,
And took my shower
To get cleaned up.

And I wound up standing there
With the water on
For just a little while.
As I tried to catch my breath.

My breath had abandoned me
When a picture
I had never seen
Snapped into view
Inside my mind.
And my heart told me,
“It’s true.”

I’d realized
That almost no one knows
What’s going on.
In the world we live in.
And the lives we lead
In these cold, dark days.

Almost no one knows
How many hearts
Have turned to stone.
How many souls
Have become cold.
How many people
No longer even know
What’s real
And what’s illusion
Any more.

And my heart ached
In my chest.
And my soul
Cried out with pain.
As I stood there
In the water
Of the shower
Wondering.

“They just don’t know.
My, God.
They just don’t know.
How can they
Just not know?”

I’ve come to know the difference,
In the past few years,
Between what’s real,
And what’s artificial.
What’s man made.

I’ve learned that what’s real
Will be here always.
It was here
Before the human race.
It will be here
When we’re gone.

What’s real
I can touch
With my two hands.
I can see
With my two eyes.
And can hear
With these ears
I’ve been blessed with.

When I walk
Out on the sand.
I know the ocean’s real.
And the sand is too.
I can taste the salt
Upon the breeze.
I can feel the heat
Of the summer sun
As it shines down
On me.

When I walk
Through the flowers,
Or through the trees.
I can reach out
And touch them.
I can feel the life
In them.

When I reach across
The sand that isn’t there
And touch another’s hand.
Or hold someone
That needs holding.
When I dry another’s tears.

I know what’s real.
And what matters
In this life
I’ve been blessed with.

When I go to work,
It doesn’t matter where,
I know that work’s not real.
It’s part of something
We have made.
Part of the economy.
Part of our society.

And if I look at history,
I can not help but see
That every society
That’s ever been
Has come
And gone.
Not one of them
Has lasted
Like the things
That are real.

I remembered
As I stood there
With the water flowing,
That I’d written
Words of truth
In 2010.
When I spoke of walking
On the sand
On my break at work.

And the way
That my heart ached
When my walk
Came to its end,
And I had to return
To the land of work.

Where nothing was real.

When the memories
Had come and gone.
I turned the water off.
Dried off.
And then got dressed.

Wondering if anyone I knew
Would ever understand this world
The way that I now do.

Wondering if anyone I knew
Still knew
And understood
The difference between their work,
And the lives they let other people see.
And who they are beneath
The surface we all see.

Or if the truth
Of the life we live
Has become lost to them.

Like it was once lost
To me.

Knowing there were many
That did not.

That so very long ago
So many people
I have known
Turned their hearts to stone.
So they could fit within
The artificial world
That we’ve created.

And that even now,
When they look
In the mirror each morning.
And when they go to bed
Each night.

The have embraced the lie
That everything’s
Alright.

So that they don’t have
To face the truth
That our way of life
Is broken.
And not real.

I’ve spent several days
Since then
Trying to find the words
To share with my friends
What it is I saw
That day.
After I had my walk.

But I know.
I know a simple truth.
That no matter how I try
To find the words to say.
I’ll fail.

And so very few
Will ever learn
What I’ve learned
In this life.

About what’s real.
And what is not.

About the many
People of the world
Whose hearts
Have turned to stone.

And you wonder
Why I speak of
My Soul’s Tears…

I Love My Friends

Today, my doctor asked me
A question that he’s asked before.
“Did you love her?”

I’ve never taken the time
To actually answer him.
Until today.

“Define love.”
That’s how my answer started.
“Did I love Gina?
If I say I loved Gina,
Then I have to say
I loved Judy too.”

My doctor just smiled.
Because I know
He understood.
He’s been working with me
For over 18 months.
He better have a clue
To how I work
By now.

Yes.
I once loved Gina.
But it would seem
No one understood at all
What the heck I meant
When I said that.

Especially her.

See.
I loved Gina.
I loved Judy to.
And there are people
That I love now.

Unlike a neurotypical.
I can say the words.
If I decide to.
Because for me,
It’s just a decision.
Yes or no?
Say the words?
Yes or no?

None of that social crap
Gets in the fucking way.
That shit does not exist
To me.

You know.
Sometimes it really ticks me off
The way people behave
As if I understand the world
The same way they do.
As if they can apply
The same rules,
And guidelines,
That they apply to everyone
To me.

I told that to my doctor too.
Today.
We talked a bit about
How I never do,
And have never done,
Anything the way
That I’m supposed to.

Do you know how many times
I’ve had people look at me,
Dumbfounded.
As if I was the stupidest person
On the face of the Earth.
“Mark!
What the fuck did you do now?
Jesus Christ!
You know damn well
Not to do that!”

But they never tell me what I did.
Or why what I did
Was wrong.
They just assume I know.

There’s a reason
The word ass
Is in the word assume,
You know.

These same people
Have also said to me,
“I wish I had the guts
To do what you just did.”

What guts?
What I did
Didn’t take any courage
On my part
At all.
It was just damn
Common Sense!

Did I love Gina?
Yes.
I did.
And I’m so very disappointed
At how she behaved
When she learned I did.

But, you see.
Gina’s not the only friend
That I have ever loved.
There have been
A few of them.

Like Deb.
And Lynne.
And Kathryn too.

And there are several now.
Like two friends
From way back in high school,
Pat,
And Penny too.

And then there’s Denise.
We’ve been friends damn near forever.
And she’s gotta know by now
That she’s a beloved friend.

See.
This is what I just don’t get.
What I don’t understand.

You love your friends,
Don’t you?
There’s nothing wrong with that,
Is there?
It’s how thing ought to be,
Isn’t it?

It’s not like there’s something
Wrong with me,
Just because I love my friends.

What’s wrong,
I find,
Is how so many people
Have become so terrified
Of such a simple thing.

How did the word love
Come to mean,
“I’m going to sleep with her,
And she’ll be mine.
Or I’ll kill everyone.”

Geeze.
And you people think
That I’m fucking nuts.
Or do you really think
That you can say to me,
And speak honestly,
“If my friend were to get hit by a truck
On Monday morning,
And be dead and gone
Forever more.
I’d still come to work.”

I wouldn’t.
My heart would ache
Within my chest.
And my soul would shed at least
10,000 tears of pain.
At the simple truth
That I would never hear
That person’s voice again.
That throughout my days
I would never more receive
The gift of that person’s smile.
That I would never again see
The magic that I saw
In that person’s eyes.

Did I love Gina?
Hell yes.
And she wasn’t
The only person that I loved
In the life that was.

That’s something I had right.
In the life I that was.
That’s something
I’m not changing.
Because I’ve learned
Not to fear
The simple truth
That I love my friends.

You deny it all you want.
Lie to yourself.
And to your friends.
For there is another
Simple truth
That I know of.

You love your friends too.
You  just let your fears
Tell you what to do.
And hide from the truth
Every single day.

And you wonder
Why it is
That I don’t listen to you
Any more.

Thank God in Heaven up above
That I’m not like you.

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.

Memories : The Phone Call

There is a memory I can never forget. One that changed everything for me, and for my family. A memory of Monday, 11 October, 2010. The day I got the phone call. It wasn’t just any phone call. It was THE phone call. The one that ends everything. I’ll change some of the names, so no one has to worry that I’m pointing any fingers at them. I’m not. I’ve long over that.

I remember it so well. My boss being on the other end of the call. “Mark, they don’t want you to return to work on Tuesday. Instead, you’ll have to come here, to the office. And we’ll figure out what’s going on.”

It was one of those moments when you panic. When the only thing you can do is panic. Because you know when you hear those words that your going to be fired. That no one ever hears those words, and doesn’t get fired.

Hell, I didn’t even know what I’d done. I’d done my job. I’d done everything I was asked. If someone had a technical question about the program, I answered it. Happily. I had no problem with the work. The work was what I liked. It was what I was paid to do. I did it.

There was more to it than that. My summer had gone to hell. Complete and total hell. Two of my friends at work were having very hard times. Now, you have to understand some things about me. About the way I am. You have to understand that to me, people that I work with are not expendable. They’re not acquaintances. They’re not “someone I work with”. To me, those artificial lines in the sand that people draw, those invisible walls that they put up, that sort their lives into compartments, don’t exist. They never have.

I had few friends. I’ve never had many friends. I likely never will. But I had friends that I worked with. People that I trusted. People I would have gladly helped if they’d ever have asked me to. Two of them did. Two of them had problems in the summer of 2010. And I helped them. As best I could. In the only way I knew how.

One was Barbara. Barbara was a few years older than me. She’d been in a downward spiral for a while. It was easy to see that. She had days she called in sick. With her back in great pain. And with back spasms. You remember those Cymbalta commercials? The ones that ask, “How much does depression hurt?”. Well… Barbara was an example of that. She’d reached a point where coming in to work each day caused her headaches. Caused her back to ache. Caused her back spasms. Where her body would literally prevent her from showing up at work.

My heart said to me, “You can help her. Even if she doesn’t ask. You can help her. Give her a reason to smile. Every morning. Find something funny to share with her in an e-mail message.” And that’s what I did.

The most everyone seemed to do was watch. Sit on the sidelines, and watch as Barbara spiraled down into the hell that depression is. Everyone sat on the sidelines. Behaving the same way. Watching, and wondering to themselves, “What’s wrong with her now?” And making the declaration among themselves, “She should pull her act together, and fly straight, like the rest of us, before she get’s herself fired.”

That’s one of those things that people do that drives me bonkers, you know. When they look at you and take the same approach as Pontius Pilate did with Jesus Christ in the Christian Bible. When he washed his hands of the whole topic, and declared, and let an innocent man be murdered by a mob. It’s one of those cop-outs that people use. Like a crowd on a street in a big city somewhere that just keeps walking past like nothing is happening as some guy with a gun and a knife rapes some woman, and then murders her in front of everyone. And no one does a thing to prevent it.

I found I couldn’t be that way. I couldn’t behave as if nothing was going on. As if there was nothing I could do. I had to help. Barbara was my friend. What else could I do? Stand by, and pretend everything was OK? It wasn’t. And I knew it. And I knew exactly what was happening to her. And I knew I could help. I knew I had the ability to help. And that’s what I did.

The way people reacted to her, and the battle she was fighting with depression, made me angry. It was as if they all were part of some machine. Some unified, uniform structure. Where everyone did everything the same way. To me, they all became the same. It was as if all the life in the place was gone. As if nothing real was left there anymore. As if no one cared for anyone. As if the only thing that mattered was the paycheck. And if the person they worked with five days a week for ten years got shot one day, and died, well. There was nothing to be done about that. Just replace the missing piece with another piece. And continue earning that paycheck.

They’d become inhuman to me.

Then there was Cynthia. The one that talked with me one day, and said she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

You know what burned me up? What made me angry? What made me think that no one cared about anyone  except themselves? What I was told to do. How I was told to behave. “Mark. Don’t care about Cynthia. There’s nothing you can do.” That’s like telling someone watching a friend hang out the window of an apartment building that’s on fire, and telling them, “Oh, well. If your friend falls from there, and hits the ground, and dies, that’s life. Don’t try to help.” We me thinking, “Where the fuck’s the air mattress? How about cardboard boxes? Lots of boxes? I gotta do SOMETHING!”

And that’s what I was told. It was unanimous. Every single person that I worked with said the same thing. Maybe in different words. But it all came down to one thing. One essential idea. Protect yourself. Protect your job. Learn not to care.

I couldn’t. To me, that was just flat wrong. To me, sitting back and not saying anything was wrong. To me, coming in to work on a day when Cynthia was so ill that she couldn’t work at all, and behaving as if everything was normal, was heartless.

After what I’d seen happen to Barbara, seeing what was happening to Cynthia was too much. My heart refused to roll over and play dead. My soul cried out to God and asked what He would have me do. My sense of right and wrong screamed at me that everything was wrong. I could not sit back and say to Cynthia, “Here’s hoping you get better,” and then behave as if she was expendable. Another part in the machine of work. Of life. And that if that part failed, well… You do what you do with any other machine. You replace the broken part. The part that failed. And the machine goes on.

I knew I had problems with all of the events that were going on. But, you can’t tell someone that’s having problems, “You need help,” and expect them to listen to you. I hadn’t tried to tell Barbara that she needed help. I’d waited for her to figure it out on her own. Because I understood that she knew something was wrong. And that she understood what she had to do to get better.

She had to figure out for herself that she needed help. And then she had to go find the help she needed. And I had to support her. To be her friend. And when she did get help, I had to ask how it was working. How things were going. If she’d found what she was looking for.

Unlike the people that said, “It’s about fucking time she got help.”

I’ve learned. People are heartless. Their souls are cold, and lifeless. And their hearts no longer beat. They’re dead. And grey. And their lives have no color any more. As if they’ve become machine, programmed to do the same thing every day. And they are all programmed to do the same thing the same way. None of them is different. And that’s how they want to be.

And they said to me, “How’s Barbara doing? Is she doing OK? I’m concerned for her.”

I tried so hard to not laugh when they said such things to me. I tried so hard to not push people that said such things through the wall behind them. Screaming at the top of my lungs, “LIAR!” Because I knew. I knew. I knew that no one cared. Not really. I knew that what they were really saying is, “It’s sad what’s happening. But if getting involved. If caring. If doing anything other than watching from the sidelines puts my paycheck, my career, my image at risk. I have my family to think about. My bills to pay. My home to take care of. I knew why they said they cared. Why they said, “We are concerned.” And at the same time, why they said, “Don’t care about Cynthia,” to me.

It was almost an instant change for me. The rejection of how things were. My declaration that nothing at work was real any more. That nothing there mattered. And of course, that’s how I began to behave. I behaved like I felt. I behaved as if everywhere I looked, I saw people lying. As if no one spoke the truth any more in that place of work. As if everyone knew no one spoke the truth. As if everyone knew that saying, “You’re my friend” was actually saying, “I have to work with you.” As if everyone would wink at each other, and do their best to keep the secret safe about how things really were.

I never saw the phone call coming. I never saw the end. I never expected that I would be told by each of the people that I worked with, “You’re disrupting our carefully crafted machine. We can’t accept that. We have to get rid of you.”

And when it happened. When that phone call came. For anyone to think that I could fee I had not been betrayed by the people I’d worked with for so very long, simply proves that no one there cared about anyone. That everyone there was a replaceable part in a machine.

That phone call was a knife. Slammed into my chest. A deliberate action by people that I trusted. People I learned I never understood. People that claimed to care for Barbara. For Cynthia. And even for me. And ever action they took only showed me more and more how false their statements, and their lives were.

On the day I got that phone call, I knew. I knew that I would never speak with any of them again. That I would never work with any of them again. That there was some imaginary wall in life that they had carefully, and forcefully placed me beyond. So that they were once more safe. In their machine. I knew that no matter what anyone said. Or how anyone acted. I had worked my last day in that job.

I didn’t know that I still had 9 months of lies to wade through. To put up with. Before the people that I’d worked for made their decisions clear.

Did I do things that were different? Yes. I did. I remember laughing to myself as I left the workplace. With people watching me. Not out of concern. But out of fear. I remember the headaches that I used to get the instant I parked my car in the parking lot. I remember the inability of 420 milligrams of Sodium Naproxen to even dampen the physical pain I was in, each day I worked in that place. From the first of July, 2010, through October 6th, 2010. I remember burning every day of vacation I had. I remember burning every hour of sick leave. I remember my hands shaking like the tines on a tuning fork. I remember buying cheap ink pens to replace the cheap ink pens I’d bought before. And I remember throwing the remains of more than one ink pen in the trash. Where it has been destroyed in my hand. And I remember punching the back of a steelcase 5 drawer file cabinet. Hard enough to bruise my hand. Even though I pulled the punch. Even though it was thrown off balance, and off center.

It was part of me learning how wrong everything was in that place I used to work. Learning what it really was that mattered in that place. Learning that in such a place, everyone is expendable. And that the only thing that matters is the work. The end product. And that if people get sick, or ill, of have problems in that place, they get removed. They get replaced. With people that haven’t been destroyed by the work environment yet.

And that the people that survive in that place only give the appearance of having survived. Of being OK. For inside, their hearts no longer beat. For they are frozen. Harder than any ice. Colder than any stone. And they care for no one. People that are dead inside can no longer care.

All of this.

Because of one phone call.

On Monday. 11 October 2010.

They say God works in ways that mortal men cannot understand. I find I can’t argue with that. Because that phone call, on that day, started me down the path that I’m on now. A path where I am free to be how God made me to be. Free to look around, and see the other people in this world. And how wounded so many of them are. And how dead inside so many of them have become.

And in doing so, my heart cannot help but ache, and my soul can not help but cry tears of pain, for the hurt I see in them.

That one phone call changed everything. And in the days to come, I’ll have much more to write about the things I have learned. The things I see. When I look at the hearts and souls of so many of the people around me.