Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Few Comments

Hi Folks,

Thanks for stopping by. A couple of quick notes to share with you. This is kind of my drawing board, where I play with the story a bit.

If you go to my main blog and search "Fragments of Fiction" you'll find some of the material contained here as well as some other fragments that haven't been woven into the story.

Let me know what you think, love it or hate it drop me a line.

Monday, July 11, 2005

A Beginning

I was almost 25 when I left the city of my birth. It was time to go, time to move on and get away. There were new experiences to be had and the pain of what I had once been, what I had once had was too much. Everywhere I looked there were signs of the glory and the fall.

For most of my life I had been a scrapper, never afraid to fight, never willing to give up and not smart enough to get out. It was a self imposed punishment for sins that I had committed but was unwilling to discuss.

It is not much of a description, not very colorful at all. In fact it is rather ordinary, but that is ok, I am ordinary and I prefer it that way. If you stuck me in a crowd full of people you would be hard pressed to pick me out. It was like that in school, never did or said much in class. No need to draw attention to myself I did what I needed to do to get through and nothing more.

And for the longest time that had been enough, an average, nondescript existence. It suited me fine to be a guy who punched a time clock. But sometimes even the average man find himself in a situation that is beyond his control,a time in which he becomes something more than he has been.

But the question is not what he does to elevate himself but how he handles the elevation.

It was Friday night and I had just finished my shift at the plant. There was no rush to get home because there was no one to get home to, no wife, no family, no girlfriend, not even a dog. Just an empty house that was sparsely furnished.

Friday nights were not much different than any other night of the week. I'd go home, pop open a can of beer and stare blankly at the television screen content to let my brain turn to mush.

On this particular night I decided to stop at an ATM. I wanted to order a pizza and I had nothing but the spare change from the last time I had visited the liquor store. It wasn't enough to buy a pack of gum, so I was forced to go to the bank.

There were two people ahead of me in line, a man and a woman and behind me there were a couple of teenage boys.

I didn't see him approach. I didn't notice anything about him including his presence until he was standing in front of us, waving a gun and shouting for our wallets. I have a bad habit of giggling when I am nervous. I don't like being the center of attention and now was certainly a bad time to laugh, but laugh I did.

5'8 or so and about a buck twenty sopping wet with a bad haircut and a Judas Priest shirt, that is all he was, oh and he had a big gun and an even bigger attitude. He grabbed my collar and asked me what was so funny. Before I could answer he had grabbed the woman in front of me.

She cried as he pulled her in front of him and asked me if I thought that this was funny. I choked back a snigger and told him that it wasn't. He told me that if I so much as smiled he would kill her. I wiped the smile off of my face.

It was the wrong thing to do, but I didn't know it. The jackass cuffed me in the side of the head and laughed. It infuriated me, brought back memories of years of being teased and tortured by my someone who had been like an older brother to me. So I just reacted. I kicked him in the balls and smacked him in the head.

In the movies the gun falls and the hero (there has to be a hero) grabs it. Not here, not in my world. In my world when I slap him there is a flash of light and a loud noise. I am splashed with something, but it feels like hours before I realize that he just shot the woman, and that he did it involuntarily. The wetness I feel on my face is her blood.

I stand there in shock, numb and not really aware anymore of what is happening. The guy she had been with is beating the crap out of the jackass, the Judas Priest shirt is stained now, but it is with his blood.

There is a cop speaking to me, but I don't answer. The real hero is lying, telling the officer that I saved everyone's life, that if I hadn't hit him the guy would have killed us all.

I didn't hit him, I hit Georgie. It was Georgie I saw in front of me. It was Georgie taunting me, I just snapped and reacted. But I guess that somewhere inside I began to hear and to believe that I had been the hero, that when the bell rang I had come out swinging.

And that was really the beginning of the end.

Two Kinds of Pain

Life offers two types of pain, one physical and one mental. Man still hasn’t found a tougher prison than the one he encages his mind in. There is no greater pain than the mental anguish we inflict on ourselves and there is no tougher warden than the person we see in the mirror. For some there is no midnight reprieve, the governor doesn’t offer clemency. There is only one way out and no two people can share the path.

We all live in our secret worlds, but some of us never have the strength to leave our shelter and walk under sunny skies.

I used to.

I used to live in a place I called paradise. I could look out on the world and from my window and gaze upon waters that called out to me. Deep blue seas that embraced me like a child in the womb. The seas were always calm and at night they would gently rock me to sleep.

But it wasn’t real. I didn’t live on a boat. I didn’t live on the beach or remotely close to the water. It was all an illusion, a mindfuck that I created to make myself happy. The problem was that I hadn’t realized it. I didn’t have a clue as to how precarious my own happiness was and once that was shattered I knew nothing but darkness. I wandered aimlessly in a fog, not knowing where I was going or what I was doing. It didn’t matter, I didn’t care.

I said it before, there are two kinds of pain and mental is far worse than physical. You can always find a way to escape physical pain, but you can’t run from your own mind. Philosophers had long ago figured out that hell existed, that there was a devil, except he wasn’t a guy with horns, a pitchfork and a tail. The church had made that guy up. The devil was someone familiar with you, someone who knew your most intimate secrets and your darkest fears. The devil knew you, knew how to torment your soul.

The devil knew all this because he was, he is…you.

That’s right, the devil is not supernatural. There is no Lucifer, no Satan, and no Beelzebub. It would be better for us all if he did exist. No, the devil is just a man, a person that lives inside us all.

See when they wrote the bible and told the story of getting banished from the Garden of Eden they were not talking about a mythological place, they were referring to the end of innocence. They were talking about that time when life hits you in the mouth, knocks you down and beats you senseless. They were talking about getting hurt in places that bandages don’t stick, cuts that you cannot stitch, they just keep bleeding. And even if you manage to stop the bleeding that stinging sensation never really does go away.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Stumbling Through Life

The truth will always come out, or so they had taught us in school. One way or another it would find it's way to the surface. The problem is that sometimes the truth had all the beauty of a victim of drowning. The weights that anchor the body slip off and it shoots to the surface where it floats and bobs upon the water.

Face up or face down, it doesn't make a difference until you get close enough to take a closer look. And the smell, the smell is something that you never get beyond. There is a putrid stench that sticks with you, gets locked in the back of your throat and grabs a hold of you like some alien parasite.

Anyway you look at it, that body is not pretty, not graceful, not anything but ugly. And that is what the truth can be like, ugly. Our teachers would have use believe that there was something noble and majestic about it. Movies portray the hero as someone who never falters, who uses the truth to defeat the bad guys. I was a streetwise guy. I knew that the truth was never black and white, that there were shades of gray, but even a mug like me can get caught up believing his own hype.

I wanted to blame the jackass at the ATM for bringing this shit storm down upon my head. If he hadn't tried to rob us all, if he would have been honest, if he would have done a million other things the girl he shot would still be alive and I wouldn't feel so miserable.

And then again she might still be alive if I hadn't reacted like the frightened little boy I had been and maybe still was. If Georgie hadn't spent years tormenting me, picking, poking and prodding me, she might still be walking. A father wouldn't miss his daughter and a mother wouldn't cry herself to sleep.

Maybe if I would have learned how to deal with the bullying I could have stopped myself from just reacting. Goddamn Georgie, he was dead too. Gone for years and still I could hear him mocking me, feel his presence. They say sometimes the absence of someone is palpable. The only thing palpable about Georgie's presence was that even in death he still walked alongside me.

If I believed in G-d I would have prayed for something, forgiveness, death, anything, something to give me peace of mind. I hadn't had it since I had left home, if not longer. The very thought of prayer was laughable. Any faith that I had possessed had been beaten out of me.

She was dead because Georgie had proven to me that I was weak and that I was lacking in value and worth. Really it was my fault. Georgie was right, kick a dog enough times and he'll evolve. He'll pass through stages of confusion, denial, anger and then he;ll reach a point where he just doesn't care what happens, he'd just as soon bite you as crap on your porch.

Georgie had made sure that I experienced all of it. He said that he was helping me and I wanted to believe him. He said that he was making me into a man, making me tough enough to deal with a world that bent you over a hot stove and laughed at you.

The first time Georgie beat me I was scared. I didn't defend myself. I didn't try to, I just let him kick and punch me. And when he stopped I looked at him through teary eyes, not sure what to expect. He gave me a handkerchief and stuck out a hand to help me up.

I was wiping the blood off of my face when he hit me again. I didn't see it coming and when I came to I was lying in the dirt and he was gone, as were three of my teeth. Georgie didn't believe in giving or accepting help, to him it was sign of weakness and he couldn't have that.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

A Burning Anger

Georgie taught me about burning anger. It was he who trained me, rather molded me into someone who was angry all of the time. Prior to his entrance into my life I was just another Joe, nothing particularly noteworthy about me, but Georgie placed me on his forge and made me into something different. Not someone, something, his words, not mine.

Georgie's influence was profound in the worst way. He claims that he saw potential and did nothing more than tap into it. And in my darker moments I tend to believe him, but most of the time I think of it differently. Georgie made me mean the way you prepare a pit-bull to be a fighter. Stick glass in his food, kick him, beat him and do what you can to make him feel battered and bruised. Place the animal in a position that makes it feel like it is never safe and never secure.

But humans are not animals, maybe at our most basic level, but even so there is still something more there, a sentient being who can go one of many directions. Georgie once told me that the fact that I wasn't catatonic said a lot about me. He said it with the sick smile he used to wear when he thought that he knew a secret that no one else knew.

If it had been about something else, someone else, I would have felt differently, but this was about me and that made it worse. No one wants to think badly of themselves, even Charles Manson wants to believe that he is just a misunderstood soul. It was just another one of the wounds Georgie inflicted on me. It would have been better if he had hit me, I had grown accustomed to that, was familiar with the pain, but the mental torment never left me. I could drink or smoke the other pain away, but I couldn't find a bottle big enough to take the edge off that cut, it was too deep.

Friday, July 08, 2005


The funny thing about my relationship with Georgie was the way we looked together. Georgie was only about 5’7 or 5’8 and he couldn’t have weighed more than 165 pounds or so.

On the other hand I was almost 6’4 and weighed a solid 230 pounds. If you looked at us you would have never guessed that for years I had been scared of Georgie, afraid in a very real and tangible sense. And he knew it, he could smell it in my sweat, or so he claimed.

I can’t explain what it was about him that frightened me so, I just know that he did. It might have had something to do with the time he beat David Jackman with a tire iron, or the time that he hopped over the counter at the mini-mart and beat the shopkeeper up for insulting him by asking for proof of his age. He was like a mini-volcano, ready to blow at any time and unpredictable.

In some ways my size had put me at a disadvantage. I had always been bigger than everyone else. In school the bullies had avoided me as had most of the other kids. No one wanted to risk having their head handed to them. The end result was that because I never had any fights I was afraid of what would happen, worried that I could get hurt and quite concerned about what a fist to the mouth would feel like.

Georgie never had those fears and I don’t know why. He came from a middle class home. His mother was a housewife and his father was chief mechanic. It was a blue collar job that paid enough to provide white collar lifestyle. Georgie’s father never hit him, never used any sort of physical threat to control him, so who knows why he turned out as he did.

Psychologists and social workers get paid a lot of money to improperly diagnose people like Georgie. I won’t waste my time trying to do their job, and who cares what made him the way he was. The more important question was how to stay on his good side because he was mean and proud of it.

Georgie bragged about the fights he got into, showed off his scars and told stories of the past hurts and battles like they had just happened. The chip on his shoulder was never very far from his present.

We must have been around 20 or so when Georgie decided to teach me his life lessons. At first I was shocked and confused. I couldn’t believe that he was hitting and kicking me and then I was too bloodied and bruised to do anything but curl up on the floor and try to protect myself.

If I had any sense he beat it out of me there because the smart thing would have been to just walk away and not speak with him again. Alternatively I could have fought back, hit him, the lack of resistance only encouraged him to continue to batter me longer and harder.

This went on for a couple of years, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. I was in a funny place then, so time really didn’t have much meaning to me. It would probably still be going on if not for the accident.

It was a Saturday morning. Georgie showed up at my apartment at around 9 am, sat there kicking and yelling at my door. When I answered it he told me to get dressed, we were going out.

I threw on a pair of jeans, some Timberland boots, flannel shirt and topped it off with a baseball cap turned backwards and followed him to his car. We were heading into the mountains to “see someone.”

That was bad news for someone. Any time Georgie said he wanted to “see someone” it meant that he wanted to see them bleeding, preferably because of him. I didn’t bother to ask who or why, it wouldn’t matter and it wouldn’t change anything. Georgie would do what he did just because and that was the fact of the matter.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Georgie in the Mountains

Three hours later we joined a half dozen other cars in a campground turned shantytown. If I had been a photographer for Newsweek I could have composed a photo essay about the working poor. The people roaming through the grounds couldn’t have been much older than their mid-thirties, but the tired and weathered looks upon their faces told a different tale. Callused hands and leathery skin spoke of untold hours engaged in manual labor.

I still didn’t know much about why we were here, other than Georgie’s comment that morning about needing to see someone. I wasn’t real happy about it either, but Georgie wasn’t the kind of guy you complained to, let alone about. So I shut my mouth and followed him out of the car.

It was late afternoon and the sun had begun its journey to the other side of the world but somehow no matter which direction we walked I was squinting. I tripped over a pile of empty beer bottles and found myself face down in the dirt. Among other company this might have generated a laugh or two; with Georgie it earned a look of derision and a muttered curse.

In the distance someone was singing along with Springsteen’s Born in the USA. To the right of me a woman was trying to mediate a fight between her children, it can’t be easy when threatening to send your child to their room means the back seat of the car. More sounds drifted in, laughter, a dog barking and something that sounded like the pop pop pop of a pistol being fired.

Georgie finally stopped in front of a beat up Toyota Camry and motioned for me to wait where I was. I couldn’t hear the conversation but judging from the wild gestures and curses coming from Georgie he was not happy. If I knew Georgie we were moments away from one of his violent outbursts. It might have been warm for everyone else, but I felt a definite chill in the air.

The man in the Camry got out of the car and walked off into the forest. I waited as Georgie followed him. Seconds turned into minutes and I became very conscious of just how long I had been waiting for Georgie. It wasn’t unusual for him to just leave me somewhere with no instruction on how long to wait so I kept waiting.

It was sunset and now there was no question about a drop in the temperature, it was getting colder. Georgie had driven up here and taken the keys with him. I began to grow concerned about how I was going to get back. It wouldn’t have surprised me to have found out that Georgie had gotten back in the car and left me here. There was only one person that he cared about and it wasn’t me.

But running off into the woods to find him had its own problems. To begin with I had no idea which way to walk and for how long and then there was Georgie. With his paranoia issues there was no way to tell how he would react. But I feared a beating less than I feared being stuck out here so I began to follow the trail that he and the other guy had taken.

It didn’t take me long to find them. I had seen Georgie do some horrific things, but this one surprised me. Georgie had tied the guy from the Camry to a tree. His head was hanging and I could see him take a shallow breath. Georgie was talking into his hand, whispering something that I couldn’t quite make out.

That was when I realized that Georgie was not talking into his hand, he was talking into the ear of the man tied to the tree, except the ear was no longer attached to him. Neither were his thumbs or the middle fingers on both hands. They were lying on a rock in front of the man.
But that wasn’t the worst part of it. Next to the fingers and thumbs was a slice of bread, ketchup and his tongue. Suddenly Georgie’s mumbling started to make more sense, he was promising to reunite the man with the “pieces of flesh he had liberated.”

I must have coughed or gagged because until that point he hadn’t been aware of my presence. And then there he was, standing in front of me, prodding me to take a turn, pushing me to show him that I had learned something. I felt sick inside, but I let him press the knife into my hand.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Like Two Prizefighters

I stood there and looked blankly at the man, my arms dangled at my side like two sides of beef. It was overwhelming me. I stood there knowing that this man had been tortured, knowing that Georgie expected me to torture him some more. And the worst part of it was that part of me was curious about what it would be like to do it. What would it feel like, would I get some kind of rush of adrenaline or would it be the beginning of a nightmare that would haunt me.

It would have been nice to say that I was a nice guy who had never done anything wrong, but that wasn’t true. It would have been nice to blame it all on Georgie and to say that he was responsible for the violence that I had been a part of, but that wasn’t true. He may have gotten me involved, but I always had the chance to walk away, to say no and I never did.

The reality was that I blamed myself for the way my life had turned out and even though I knew that Georgie played a large role in it, I still beat myself up about it. Even though I knew that had I tried to walk away there would have been an ugly confrontation I still thought that I should have, could have done better.

Georgie came up behind me and guided the hand holding the knife to the battered remains of the victim’s face. As he suggested that I cut out an eyeball I realized that this time would be different. I had had enough that much was clear by how I thought of this guy. In the past I never would have used the term victim to describe the people we had hurt. But that was a different time.

I pulled my arm out of Georgie’s grasp and flung the knife into the woods. He grabbed me by the collar of my jacket and asked me “to tell him what the fuck I was doing.”

I knocked his hands off of me and told him that I couldn’t do this. Enough was enough. He spat at the ground in front of me and said that pussies like me deserved whatever happened to us. For a moment his face softened and he asked me to reconsider, told me that the guy was going to die anyway and that we might as well enjoy ourselves.

And that was when I knew that I had to kill Georgie. There was no way that he was going to let me live. Oh, he might let me get off of the mountain, he might not do anything for a while, but sooner or later he would come for me and I knew it.

For a moment we stood there starting at each other, like two prizefighters sizing each other up we shared a moment of silence. Georgie was an animal who could hurt you badly without thinking about it. I was someone who had participated in acts of violence, but I couldn’t escape the sick feelings that accompanied it.

And I couldn’t escape the feeling of dread that was wracking my body. I was scared and I didn’t know what to do. I knew that I didn’t have long. Georgie wouldn’t let this impasse last for long and for all I knew the Tree Man (as I had taken to calling him) might have friends come looking for him.

I knew that in the glove compartment of Georgie’s car there was a .38 snub nosed revolver and I knew that it was always loaded. Of course I had the simple problem of what to do about the Tree Man and Georgie. There was no way that Georgie would just let me walk away and I hadn’t a clue about the Tree Man. He might not survive his wounds and given that Georgie said that he was going to kill him anyway he could potentially be factored out of the equation.

But that left me as an accomplice to murder and I wasn’t real keen on that. Neither was I happy not knowing Tree Man’s history. Maybe I had read too many books or seen too many movies, but I was concerned with whether his death might create trouble for me outside of the many legal problems it presented.

And then it happened. Georgie hit me in the head, knocking me backwards over the stump. I grunted as I hit the stump and fell face first in the dirt. A boot slammed into my ribs. Again I wished that this was a movie or at least a dream. Nightmares ended with you waking up panting and short of breath, but at least you had escaped the monster. I was not so lucky.

This wasn’t a dream, I wasn’t going to wake up and no one was going to help me. It was nightfall and the moon had not yet risen so it was dark. I scrambled to my feet and tried to run only to be tripped.

I fell down again and again I was rewarded with another boot in my rib cage. I stood up and Georgie hit me hard, but this time I fell into him. I’d like to say that I planned it, but it would be a lie. Together we fell in the darkness. I landed on top of him and began punching him, screaming and shouting I pummeled him. I don’t know how long I hit him for, but I know that it took a while for me to realize that it had all been unnecessary. When we fell down the back of his head had landed on a rock. All I had done was make him more dead.

When I stood up I was shivering. Georgie was dead, Georgie was dead, Georgie was dead, Georgie was dead.

Now what.

The thing was that Georgie had been like family to me. In some sick, twisted and perverse sense of the word he had been like my older brother, the guy hadn’t always been bad, he hadn’t always been this way, had he. I couldn’t tell, I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t even really sure that he was dead, maybe he wasn’t, maybe he was just hurt, maybe he was just unconscious, knocked out like one of those cartoons we used to watch.

Maybe it was like when Bugs Bunny stuck his finger in Elmer Fudd’s gun and he would sit up, his face covered in black dirt.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

A Pair of Corpses

But I knew that wouldn’t be the case, knew that this time he wouldn’t get up. Part of me wanted that to happen so badly, even knowing that there would be one hell of a beating involved.

To this day I don’t know how long I lay there on top of Georgie, panting, shivering and in shock. My shirt and hands were sticky with blood, Georgie’s blood. I stood up and walked over to the Tree Man. He was still tied to the tree, but he wasn’t moving, dried blood marked his body and when I grabbed his head in my hands it felt cold and limp. I shook him, told him to wake up, demanded that he answer me.

His silence mocked me and I couldn’t deal with it. I was out of my mind, overwhelmed with emotion and I hit him in the mouth. I felt his head snap against my fist and then the tree and I could swear that he groaned. “Hey, hey asshole, answer me, say something,” I screamed, but no words came out of my mouth and so I grabbed him and shook him again. But again his silence mocked me.

“Georgie, you better stop playing,” I shouted and then I kicked him over and over, slapped his face and grabbed his throat and began squeezing it until I realized it wasn’t Georgie. Georgie was dead, his body lay a few feet away.

I started to laugh and shake, giant gales of laughter wracked my body. There in the dark I stood the world’s newest murderer. Life hadn’t been great, but now it was distinctly worse. Georgie’s death was an accident, it was self-defense. He had been trying to kill me, but the Tree Man, how could I explain that.

How could I tell anyone about this. Who would believe me? When they saw him they would look at me and that would be the end of it. I couldn’t imagine any scenario that didn’t end with me in a cage and that wouldn’t do, couldn’t do, it just wouldn’t.

That sick cackle that had been emanating from my mouth returned, bubbled forth like the hiss of air escaping a punctured tire and then it turned into sobbing. Beneath the moonlight I lay in the dirt and cried. A soft wind blew through the trees and the rustling of the leaves painted a picture of desolation. What else was there besides me and the two corpses, my world was destroyed.

And then I heard Georgie’s voice. Even in death he taunted me, ridiculed me for being weak. I could see him standing in front of me, grinning at my pain, the contempt he held me in apparent for all to see. Except that he was dead and I was alive and in hell.

But like so many times in the past the self-pity turned to anger and I stood back up, sucked up the anger and stuffed it back into the pit in my soul it came from. I had to go, had to get out of there and off of the mountain. Now all I needed to do was figure out what to do with Georgie and the Tree Man and go home.

The Past

In a past life Buck had been someone, but it was a little unclear who.

He was not dumb or slow although some took his reticence to speak as an indicator of such. In a different time and place Buck had been a son, he had been a husband and most importantly a father.

Buck reminded Tom of granite, imposing and forbidding he gave the impression that had he wanted to remain in the bar nothing could have made him move. Tom wasn’t real sure how they became friends or even if they were, but he couldn’t let him stay or maybe he wouldn’t have stayed.

Who really knew what or why Buck did what he did. The reality was that Tom had invited him out, had asked him to join him for a beer and so he felt responsible for the incident.
Their friendship had been a gradual process, not much different than watching a glacier move. Slowly it had evolved from grunts and nods to the odd word here and there. The bar they were currently walking away from had helped to push things along.

One day Tom had decided to stop and get a beer before heading home. Buck was sitting on a stool, alone as usual. It hadn’t been easy to approach him, but he had been afraid not to. So he had walked over and asked Buck if he could join him. An almost imperceptible nod yes demonstrated his approval and so he pulled up a stool and sat down.

For the first ten minutes he hadn’t even tried to speak to him, just sat there trying to figure out what to say. It was awkward and uncomfortable, but the silence didn’t faze Buck. And in truth it was Tom’s decision not to try and force conversation that caused Buck to speak first.

He didn't say much, but for someone who tended not to say more than three words at a time this was a veritable Shakespearean soliloquy. "You could do better work if you slowed down." It wasn't said critically, there was no accusation, it was surprisingly friendly in tone and nature. "If you let the machine do its job you'll do better."

Tom suddenly realized that he had been holding his breath and exhaled deeply. "Thanks, I appreciate it."

And from then on they had an unspoken appointment to share a pitcher of beer each week. Over time bits and pieces came out about Buck. He shared little things about his life, but the pieces of the puzzle were still hard to place. It became more than apparent that there was much more to Buck than it appeared, but still he was a man who did not offer much in the way of answers.


His name was Buck and he was built like a gorilla. It wasn't an affectionate description, nor a term of endearment. It wasn't that he looked particularly simian, it was his long arms. Had they been thin they would have been called gangly, they were not.

Those arms were connected to a body that resembled a fireplug and to a brutish looking face. Dark eyes hid behind thick black eyebrows and a nose that resembled a pear.

He would never be called pretty, handsome or complimented for his looks. But neither would he ever be teased as it was apparent to even the animals that he was not to be trifled with. It was one of the things that set him apart.

Dogs avoided him. Big dogs, little dogs, Rottweiler, Pit Bull, Schnauzer, it didn't matter, they stayed away from him, as if they could sense the violence that lay just beneath the surface.

Tom had seen it surface a couple of times. They had finished their shifts and walked over to a local bar for a beer. A couple of locals had the misfortune of poor judgment. He had sneezed and knocked over their pitcher of beer. They immediately began berating him and when he didn't respond they grew more aggressive.

They mistook his inactivity for fear or who knows what. Had they looked more closely they would have noticed that his large hands were scarred and callused. A person doesn't get those marks, they earn them. And those that earn them have a certain something that they bring to the party.

Tom was surprised, really shocked was more like it with the speed at which things happened. The man closest to Buck grabbed his collar and demanded that he spring for a new pitcher of beer. One moment he was standing in front of Buck, hands wrapped in the collar of a dirty blue jumpsuit and the next he was writhing in pain on the ground, one arm dangling uselessly from his body.

The second man didn't have time to do anything before Buck and picked him up and slammed him face first on the floor like a cheap rag doll. The only saving grace for him was that the impact knocked him senseless, would that his sense would have flitted over to the first man.

If it had he might have lay still. He didn't, opting to grab Buck's leg. Perhaps he did so unconsciously, perhaps not. It doesn't matter what the reason was, because Buck fixed his arm so that there was a question of whether he would ever be able to feed himself again.

Tom looked at his watch. It was 5:37, their shift had ended at 5:30. It had taken at least five minutes to leave the plant and walk to the bar. How did this happen so quickly and what was he supposed to do now.

Buck was a bit of an enigma to Tom. The fury with which he had dispatched the two men has dissipated into the ether. It was as if it had never happened. The only sign of his anger were the broken bodies of the two men and a couple of rivulets of sweat upon his brow.

Beyond that it was hard to determine if anything unusual had happened. He wasn't breathing hard and his behavior had reverted back to the passive state in which most people usually saw Buck. Tom knew that this wasn't what most people considered normal behavior, but he also knew that Buck had not gone looking for trouble, it had found him. And he also knew if they stayed there until the police came Buck's trouble would include Tom and he wasn't willing to let that happen.

So he grabbed Buck by the arm, taking care to make sure that Buck saw that it was him and not some stranger and suggested that they leave. And so they did, their progress was unimpeded by the other patrons of the bar. They were not people who had a great love for the police, but they were people who appreciated having two functional arms and after what they had just witnessed no one dared to challenge their departure.

Back on the street Tom considered what he knew about Buck. When Tom began working at the plant Buck was a Chief Machinist. Not that the “chief” part of the title meant anything, but in the 10 years since Tom had begun working at the plant he had yet to meet another Chief Machinist. Nor had he met any other machinists besides himself.

It was kind of queer. There was room for at least another three full time men, plenty of work to go around. Best of his knowledge the company was making money, so it seemed strange to him. But he had learned not to ask questions, what another man did was his business and it was best to stick with people of the same pay grade as your own.

What he did know was that Buck never missed a day of work. He didn’t call in sick, he didn’t take vacations either. He came to work and he did what he had to do. But that still didn’t tell the story. He was fast at his work, but not in a flashy way. His speed was deceptive, he always appeared to be moving at half speed, yet his production was faster than Tom and error free. And as Tom had heard, Buck had worn out at least three other machinists.
Each one had tried to match his production and precision, but none could.

Tom didn’t know this because of Buck, you could say that he knew it in spite of Buck.

Buck didn’t speak much and when he did it never was about his work and rarely ever about himself. Most of the other employees at the plant avoided interacting with Buck, he had a look about him that made people second guess themselves, double check their self-confidence. The thing was that Buck didn't try to make anyone feel anything, the feelings were just a response to Buck. It was part of who he was.

During the first few years Buck didn't say a word to Tom. The only way he knew that Buck was even aware of him would be when Buck came to his position to exchange a part or check the inventory terminal.

Clad in blue coveralls and safety glasses he would shuffle over and sniff around for whatever it was he needed. Tom knew that it was a little unfair to describe Buck in terms best used for a bear or gorilla, but it was hard not to. Buck had repeatedly demonstrated that he was abnormally strong and while he may have shuffled while he walked it was deceptive. He was fast and agile, his movements were actually measured and precise.

Old Buck didn’t waste energy with unnecessary movement or gestures.

Her Story

She came in through the bathroom window. The blackbirds outside the house announced her entry, but it didn't matter, there really was no need because when she came in through the window the window came with her, glass and frame.

Her jacket provided some protection, at least it prevented major shards of glass from severing an artery or doing other serious damage. But it didn't matter to her, the London Fog jacket she had borrowed from her last boyfriend had sustained mortal injury, grievous wounds made it apparent that it had purchased a one way ticket.

How silly it seemed, the fight that she had with her boyfriend. It was like so many other fights, battled over trivial things. Days later she wondered why his refusal to wear underwear bothered her so. What difference did it make, but it did. Something’s are not logical, nor rational, but they are important to us for reasons that we cannot always understand nor fathom.

The day of the final fight had given no indication that this would be the last day that she would speak with or look at him. One more act of impulsive behavior and one more place she would not be able to go back to, not even if she wanted to. But she never did, once she left she was gone. A traveler in the dark whose most important possessions were those that she always carried on her person.

They had woken up and made love in bed and again in the shower. And for a brief time she had thought that she could ignore the problems that made her shake her head. She acknowledged her role, owned her feelings and admitted to herself that she was impulsive and that if she would let herself forget she could forgive. But she didn't forget and so she couldn't forgive.

Her exits were not dramatic or exciting. A simple "I am going out for a walk" in which she left out the part about never returning. As she grabbed her hat and keys he yelled out from the bedroom, "It is cold, take my coat." And so she had taken the London Fog and ambled out the door.

The steps to the staircase down did not slow her progress as they had in the past. This time they encouraged her. Not withstanding the 30 seconds it took to tie her shoe and adjust the coat her exit from her old life had taken a grand total of six minutes. In all of 180 seconds she had evaluated the prior two years of life and found them lacking and so she continued striding down the hall, accompanied by the strains of Gloria Gaynor singing "I will survive."

Following the Breakup

Some people don’t like the clickety-clatter of chaos and confusion caused by the end of a relationship. That had never been a problem for her. When it was done, it was done and she always knew. Some of the men had begged her to reconsider, professed their undying love and offered to change, but by that point it was too late.

It was dead and there was no second coming. She wasn’t like her friends, willing to ignore problems because of a fear of solitude. It wasn’t honest and she was honest, too honest. She knew it, but it wasn’t something that she worried about or focused upon. In her eyes there was a natural cycle for relationships, they began, developed and grew into something that would last a while, but were ephemeral in nature.

And so it was with the last relationship, at least that is what it had appeared to be. But like many things in life, appearances can be deceiving and she had learned that leaving this last guy behind was far more difficult than she could have ever imagined.

Initially she hadn’t thought twice about it. She just walked out and headed towards the bus station. She never shared her finances with her men. She was far too independent for that, insisting that she maintain her own checking account. It was part of how she maintained control and in part responsible for how she kept from getting too close to them. They could only get so far in her head before they reached the end of the line.

Inside her pocket she clutched a small purse. It contained a lipstick, a stick of gum, bank card, checkbook with a balance of $7,237.34 and the first and only credit card she had ever owned.
All of her clothes, books and music had been left behind in the apartment. She liked making a clean start and this was going to be just that, clean. She figured that she had enough money to start over wherever she ended up and just where that would be remained up in the air.

Once she got to the station she would purchase a ticket somewhere and during the ride she would consider her options. She might even go on a vacation, lounge around on a beach somewhere and enjoy herself. She was single and all things were possible.

A billboard advertising the “Simple Life of Country Living” led to one of her famous impulses and so it was she ended upon a mostly empty bus headed down South. Her father had a hunting lodge that he rarely used, it was quiet and comfortable and she knew where the caretaker left the spare key.

The Bus Station

Years ago her mother had warned her that if she spent too much time with the guys she would never find the guy. At the time she had blown it off, attributed it to a woman who had never known a man besides her husband. Married at 19, pregnant by 20 and the mother of three children by 24 she couldn’t possibly understand why it was important to experience life and to live a little. So she wrote it off to motherly advice and went about her business.

She had always liked men and they had always liked her. She appreciated all the things that made them different from women, strong masculine hands, rough hewn features, broad backs, thick hair and more. There were so many little things about men that attracted her and so many different men to choose from.

So she set off to prove herself right and her mother wrong. She dated a lot, but was very selective in who she gave herself too. Not everyone made the cut. She wouldn’t talk herself into liking a man strictly to have a boyfriend, she’d rather be alone than settle. Besides, those relationships never worked, they were train wrecks waiting to happen.

Her thoughts were momentarily interrupted by the bright lights inside the bus station. With the exception of a man sleeping on a bench and the woman at the ticket counter it was empty. The fluorescent lights made the faded yellow paint look even more washed out than it was.

The checkerboard laminate floor was raised in places, sticky substances pulled at her shoes. In a different time and place she might have taken that as a sign that she was supposed to stay, but for now it was just gross. She choked back her thoughts of what made the floor so sticky and headed for the ticket counter.

It was 9:30, the next bus didn’t leave until almost midnight. Five hours after departure it would reach Durham. Then it would be a matter of finding transportation out to the lodge.
That gave her seven hours of downtime. Seven hours of being with herself. Some people had trouble being alone, they couldn’t take the silence, couldn’t handle the lack of contact with others. That had never been a problem for her. Her brother had locked her in a closet and left her there in the dark for hours. He thought that he was punishing her. She merely closed her eyes and went to sleep.

The harder part of the trip would be contending with the other passengers. She wasn’t unsocial, but she was not inclined to spend the rest of the night sharing recipes, stories of home or being mauled by some guy who thought that he had found an easy way to pass the time.
For a moment she considered turning around. She could walk back and step right into the life that she had left. It was almost comical to her. He had no idea that she was about to run off into the night, no clue that she had decided that their relationship was dead.

And for a moment she felt badly about it. Men were not real observant. He would not have noticed that they hadn’t had a real conversation for weeks, would not have noticed that she hadn’t initiated any sexual encounters and even if he had, he would certainly not have realized that she was no longer present.

He wasn’t a mind reader, she couldn’t expect him to fix something that he didn’t know was broken. It would be easy to come back like nothing was wrong and to just pick up where she left off, but it wasn’t honest and she couldn’t have that, couldn’t live with herself.

The Girl Who Was

It was hot outside, so very hot. If you were dumb enough to sit outside you could watch the heat radiate off of the highway, could see it shimmering off of the blacktop. An old radio with a broken knob pumped out a live version of Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones.

“Oh, a storm is threat’ning
My very life today
If I don’t get some shelter
Oh yeah, I’m gonna fade away

War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away
War, children, it’s just a shot away
It’s just a shot away”

Yes, Mick could sing. She had never been one to chase after the older men, but he was different. In a past life she and her boyfriend had gone to one of the shows at the old stadium. Mick might have been old enough to be her father, but watching his shirtless body prance and strut around the stage she became intrigued. It was one of her many secrets, Mick was a boyfriend who would never be, but he would still be Mick to her.

It was a week since she had left the old life behind. Seven days ago she had been a committed woman on the verge of being committed. Seven days ago she had been living a different life, been a different person and now she was just starting to learn who she would become.

Her thoughts were interrupted as Mick left the stage to make way for another of her favorite artists. Rod Stewart serenaded her into a daydream about endless youth

“May the good Lord be with you
Down every road you roam
And may sunshine and happiness
surround you when you're far from home
And may you grow to be proud
Dignified and true
And do unto others
As you'd have done to you
Be courageous and be brave
And in my heart you'll always stay
Forever Young, Forever Young
Forever Young, Forever Young”

She missed the days when she could still believe that she would always be young. Her face and body still belonged to a young woman, but her heart and soul were much older. Too much baggage, too many scars to be the girl who could sit and daydream about the cute boy in her class, to kiss his picture and say that she was Mrs. Goodlookingboy.

Now she was more like Mrs. Robinson than a miss and it hurt. It hurt to be honest with herself, hurt to admit that she had been fooling herself for so long. When had she given up on feeling that crazy “high school love.” When had she decided that it was ok to not really feel anything.
The worst part was acknowledging her betrayal, not of another, but of herself. It is bad enough to lie to others but to lie to yourself is the greatest and most damaging lie of all.

But now she had an opportunity to fix that, to learn from the past and make it right. That was the great message of Hollywood, you can screw up and still make it ok. There were a million examples of it. Politicians, athletes and celebrities are celebrated on camera for admitting their faults and insecurities, lauded for admitting that they share the same human foibles as the rest of us. Everyone can get a second chance.

Hell, even Nixon managed to die as a revered elder statesman and not someone who had been run out of office.

A snort escaped her lips. She couldn’t quite believe the garbage she was spewing out, not that it mattered. She was the only one here. Aside from a couple of trips into town for supplies she had had almost no interaction with anyone else.

It had taken two full days to call home to say that it wasn’t home any longer. She had intentionally waited until the middle of the day, wouldn’t risk the conversation. Not because she was afraid of confrontation, but because she couldn’t think of a nice way to tell someone that she wasn’t in love with him anymore and probably hadn’t been for longer than he would believe.

There really wasn't any point in hurting him like that. Just a short message to say that she was ok, was sorry that it had taken her so long to call and a request to donate all of her stuff to whatever charity he saw fit. No need to worry about bills or banking and just like that her present became her past, a story to be relived in dreams and journal entries.

And now out here in the sunshine there seemed little reason to look backwards, there was a big world out there and the only question was where to go and what to do. A pained sigh escaped her lips as she realized that she had fallen back into wondering where and what her place in the world should be.

She was comforted in knowing that the grey skies of Ohio were behind her, if she had to start over it might as well be in a place that had nice weather.

The Fall From Grace

“G-d struck down Lucifer and sent him spilling from the heavens and into the Earth. His wings were taken and his appearance went from fair to foul.” It was the first line of the story I had tried to write my sophomore year of high school. I fumbled around with it for a while, tried to find a voice that I could latch onto, a guide that would help me tell the tale.

I was almost sixteen years-old and an avid reader. I loved science-fiction and fantasy, wanted to be like Tolkien and Bradbury. It didn’t seem out of reach or impossible, all I needed to do was find the voice, catch the willow-of-the-wisp that would ferry me across the River Styx, my personal Charon.

Even now you can hear the echoes of the writers that influenced me in my youth. I’d like to say that I made the same mistake as Icarus, that I soared too high, that my flame burned too brightly to shine for long. It would be a lie. My life had long since lost that spark of hope that the youth of the world rely upon. I felt like I was nothing more than a broken toy that had once been shiny and new and now was buried at the bottom of the toy box. I could see glimpses of daylight, but I had no idea how to claw my way back to the surface.

Georgie might have been crazy. He might have been certifiable, but he was my lifeline into the world. He was the reason that I did more than just go to work. He was the reason that I didn’t just lie in bed or in front of the television.

A past love had told me that my affection for Georgie was equivalent to suffering from “Stockholm Syndrome.” She had said the same thing that many did about Georgie, that he would die a violent death and that he would cause nothing but pain to those around him.

I wonder if she would be surprised to see me now, to know that I was the reason he was dead. I wonder if she could recognize me, if any remnants of the love that we had shared remained or if I was nothing more than a dried up husk. Once I had been in love. Once I had felt alive and not dead inside. She wasn’t afraid to look at the darker places inside of me, didn’t think that I was broken, just lost.

And for a time her belief in me had made me feel like maybe she was right, like there might be a place for me, a chance to make something of myself. But that time was so long ago it was no longer real to me.

There is no question that her departure from my life corresponded with my own downward spiral, my own destructive nature took me to places I was afraid to be. The daylight was no longer bright and the sun was no longer warm. When she left it was abrupt and without warning.

She had told me that she loved me. She had promised to never leave me and I had believed her. I had tried to hold on to that belief, tried to convince myself that one day I would come home and find her waiting for me. But the days turned into weeks and the weeks became months and time never stopped moving, but my heart did.

A Broken Window

For the first time in what felt like eons she was free. It was easy to daydream, to lie in the sun and consider all the places she could go, the things that she could do, the people she could meet. After a long relationship it was easy to adjust to being single, to knowing that she could pick up and go anywhere, do anything.

But before she could do any of that she had to attend to a few things at the cabin. It had been late when she arrived and she had been very tired. The great escape as she liked to think of her flight from relationship land had been more emotionally draining then she had expected. It wasn’t that she missed him or that she was fearful about not finding someone knew, it wasn’t any of those things.

The end of some relationships stirred up old ghosts, memories of the past and things that had been. We all have our own baggage and sometimes when it is shifted around in the mental attic we call our minds it can wear you down a little. And it is never more apparent than when you leave something or someone behind, there is always a moment of doubt, some bits of regret.

In her case it was never enough to keep her from leaving, but it was enough that she spent time just thinking about what had happened so that she could learn from it and make a mental note not to make the same mistakes of the past.

The thing that made her saddest was knowing that in time it would hold less meaning to her, the memories would be there, but that special place that he had once occupied would be empty and his face would be harder to remember. It was both natural and normal, but it bothered her a little to consider that he might feel the same about her, to know that one day she would not be foremost in his thoughts.

She stood up and brushed herself off. The cute yellow sundress she had picked up during her last trip to town stuck to her back reminding her that while it was nice to be warm it was less pleasant to be warm and sticky.

More to the point back in the cabin there was a cold pitcher of lemonade calling her name and as a single woman with no encumbrances there was no reason why she couldn’t sit inside in her bra and panties and enjoy a cold drink.

To get to the kitchen she had to walk by the bathroom, the shards of glass from the broken window had been cleaned up and as a temporary solution she had glued a piece of cardboard to the frame. She knew that she had to get it fixed, but thus far it had not been a priority.

Now that she was considering moving on, leaving it in this fashion was not an option. It would have to be replaced. It was time to make a list of things that needed to be done and to more seriously consider where she wanted to go and what she wanted to do when she got there.

The Ghosts of Our Past

The ghosts of our past haunt us to our dying days. It is a common misconception among people to assume that this is a negative thing, that this is a something that hurt us. It can be, but only if you let it. We have the power to control our destiny. That is what I had told her, a promise of our future.

We were so very much in love. She was intoxicating, addictive, my favorite drug. I couldn’t get enough of her. Even now I can still smell her, the scent that never leaves me. Ok, it is not completely true, now it is more of a memory, but in my dreams she still visits me. In the dark of night she comes to stay with me and in the morning I wake up to the bittersweet realization that she has left me again.

Sometimes I’ll close my eyes and try to fall back asleep, hoping, praying that I can reconnect with the dream. In my mind there is no pain, no sorrow, no loss and no heartbreak. We’re still driving a convertible, her hair blowing in the wind, body pressed close to mine.

“Young hearts gotta run free, be free, live free
Time is on, time is on your side
Time, time, time, time is on your side
is on your side
is on your side
is on your side
Young heart be free tonight
tonight, tonight, tonight, tonight, tonight, yeah”
Young Turks- Rod Stewart

It was one of our songs, we loved the idea of just running away together. It was a plan of ours, to steal away in to the night and to find somewhere that we could live together for the rest of eternity.

You know what is like, the first love of your life. You have nothing to compare those feelings to, nothing makes your heart soar like they do. As a teenage boy you have to fight to not act like an idiot. You’d pick a fight with some guy just so that you could try and prove how brave you were. You’d do a million other stupid things like that, just because you felt like you had to show her how much she meant to you. There was a fire inside you that you swore could not be quenched, a burning that felt so good it ached.

Sometimes that passion you felt could get you into trouble. Sometimes you found yourself getting involved in things that were best left to others. Sometimes you got lost, got stuck with the wrong crowd and the wrong people. Sometimes you found out that your parents were not that stupid, that they knew something more about living and life than you did. Sometimes the lack of life experience could save you because you didn’t realize the amount of danger you were in and sometimes it was that very lack of experience that condemned you.

It was my fault that I lost her. It really was. Because I was an idiot who fumbled the best thing I had. Because my fragile male ego wouldn’t allow me to ask for help and by the time I was ready to the only people who would help me were the very people that I should have run away from.

When she left me it was because I was already gone. I had already left the relationship, the boy she fell in love with fell down the rabbit hole but there wasn’t a friendly rabbit waiting for me.

There was a creature with a smile like the Cheshire cat, a creature who was only too happy to take me on as their apprentice. She called him an asshole and a loser. She called him a leech, a thug and more.

I called him Georgie.

Buck Revisited

Tom knew that Buck wasn’t stupid, knew that those things that people said about him were not true. He couldn’t say how he knew this, it wasn’t instinct or an innate ability to read people. It could have been just a lucky guess or the application of the fortune from last night’s cookie from the Mandarin Dish.

Did it matter? Was there anything to be gained from this. Probably not. Tom was smart enough to recognize that brains didn’t mean that you had any common sense. More often than not the smart people got themselves into trouble because their egos made them think that they knew more than everyone else.

What it was, what it was that intrigued Tom was knowing that there was more to the company’s resident boogieman. He had always enjoyed mysteries and Buck was one hell of a mystery. If this was a movie he would find out that he had become friendly with the town’s axe murderer or the kind but misunderstood giant.

He took a deep breath because he could feel his mind racing. When he got excited like this it always moved like one of the spaceships in the science-fiction movies he liked to watch, it just jumped about at hyperspeed.

What confused him about Buck were the contradictions. Back in his high school football days his coach had encouraged his players to “bring the hammer down” on the opposing team. He realized that until tonight he hadn’t really understood what that meant. Buck hadn’t brought the hammer down, he had taken the whole toolset out and worked those two guys in the bar with it.

The thing that intrigued him, that scared him and frankly titillated his senses was that Buck hadn’t broken a sweat. He had acted like this was a commonplace occurrence, as if maiming two men was not a big deal. And then he hadn’t even made a move to leave the bar. If Tom hadn’t hustled him out of there he might still be there or be wearing cufflinks, the kind that the police stick on your wrists.

Someone who acted that way had to be a little crazy or maybe they no longer cared what happened to them. Tom knew that at some point Buck had been married, maybe even a father. Every now and then he had dropped hints of this past life into their conversations, but he never gave much in the way of details and Tom was afraid to ask.

A couple of months ago he had Buck over to his place for a summer barbecue. In truth one of the reasons for the invitation was in the hope that he might reciprocate. Tom was dying to see what Buck’s home looked like.

Some of the guys at the plant said that they figured it would be a meat locker in which there hung multiple slabs of raw flesh. It almost was believable, especially given the way in which Buck had acted. But again Tom reminded himself that this could not be the case. It didn’t fit his gut intuition. Tom smiled at the thought and rubbed his belly, the gut had rarely been wrong. It was a finely tuned instrument.

The thing to do was to just ask, to just come out and ask Buck a few questions about his past. He had earned the right to do so, hadn’t he. Hadn’t he helped get him out of the fix that he would most certainly have been in. Maybe yes, and maybe no. He made a mental note to be sure to be out of arm’s reach when he did ask him. Just in case. Buck wouldn’t hurt him for asking a question or two, would he.

In the interim he would walk back to the plant with him and pretend that he was going home to something more exciting, to someone special. Maybe that girl from the new television show could help put him to sleep tonight. Maybe she had a thing for a man who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty, someone who could fix a broken sink or build a fence. Yes, that sounded like a fine idea.

Girls Love Their Toys

There was a time in her life when it had all seemed so much simpler and maybe that was just the way the world treated your first love. She had heard that there was no love like that of a mother for her child, but she wasn’t all that sure that was true. The boy that had stolen her heart had taken more than just that, he had grabbed her soul and run off with it.

She had given it gladly, willingly. It had been her nature to share herself with those she loved and it was something that she felt like she needed to do. It was almost an obsessive compulsion to try and show the boy that there was nothing that she wouldn’t do to make him happy. When he smiled at her the world stood still, but like so many boys he didn’t quite understand what he had in her.

It wasn’t that he mistreated her or that he didn’t care for her, but he didn’t quite understand what it was that drove her. He thought with physical actions and she thought with her heart. She had always felt that he had a tender side and that if he could get around the emotional walls that boys build so that they can become men she might be able to really share something special.

Again, it is not that it wasn’t special, it is, but there was a deeper level to it and she desperately wanted him to see that with her. If he could open his eyes he would understand that there was no reason for him to ever question her or wonder about the other boys.

Once he wrote her a poem. It was kind of silly, really rather foolish, but aren’t lover’s jokes just that way.

“Girls and boys have their joys, But The Girls just really love their toys.”
He had written it down and given it to her alongside a picture of himself, a picture in which a book hid his pleasure at the thought of seeing her. He never did understand that she loved the poem and the picture, that it was something that he had made and as such it was precious to her.

Her thoughts were shattered by a loud noise and the realization that she was thinking of a past that was long gone in terms of the present. It still made her smile to think of the poem and the picture, it was one of the few possessions that she still had, a thing that she had stashed away where it could be recovered. She giggled and said “My preciousssssss” and then got up to grab some paper and a pen. It was time to get organized.

Inside the bedroom she systematically took inventory of the possessions she had acquired since her arrival. Underwear, pants, bras, a pair of white Keds, pair of jeans, overalls, a portable CD player and three CDs. The Immortal Otis Redding, Johnny Cash- Greatest Hits and U2’s The Joshua Tree.

Those three CDs also traveled with her. They spoke to her in so many ways. At times it felt like Bono, Otis and Johnny were singing to her. She had sat at the dock by the bay, knew what it was like to have a ring of fire and The Joshua Tree, “With or Without You,” “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “I still Haven’t Found What I am Looking For” described her perfectly.

Sometimes it was still painful to listen to the album, to hear her life expressed so poignantly. Perhaps it was the music or the recent flight from her latest relationship, but she felt a little bit like crying so she switched on the player and suddenly she was a schoolgirl again

“I want to run
I want to hide
I want to tear down the walls
That hold me inside
I want to reach out
And touch the flame
Where the streets have no name”

That said it all, yearning and desire to be with him, to run away and give up the trappings of society. If he would have asked her to leave she would have gone with him, but he never did. And in some ways that was best. If she had known what was going to happen she might never have begun dating him.

The changes that she saw were so hard to watch, it was just raw. And the hardest thing was that he couldn’t see how he was being used, couldn’t stop it, or wouldn’t stop it. It felt like watching someone slip into madness, it wasn’t that hard to watch Alzheimer’s take her grandfather because he had been a bastard. But the boy, he had been special.

And she had tried hard to tell him, to save him when he wouldn’t help himself, but he wouldn’t’ listen, brushed her off and told her that she was acting foolishly.

The next song came on and there the truth of what she had been looking for was revealed. She choked back the tears for a moment listened.

“I have climbed highest mountain
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you
Only to be with you

I have run
I have crawled
I have scaled these city walls
These city walls
Only to be with you

But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”

Everywhere she went she still sought to find the magic of that first love, to recapture it and bottle it up where it could never escape her grip again. And try as she might it never quite happened.

Finally the third track came on and as Bono sang the first verse the sobs rolled out…

“See the stone set in your eyes
See the thorn twist in your side
I wait for you”
Deep, heart wrenching sobs that racked her body and left her tearstained face a mess.
“With or without you
With or without you
I can’t live
With or without you”

The boy was gone. The relationship was over and the time in which to mourn that loss had long since passed. The song ended and she forced herself out of bed and into the bathroom. As she washed her face she reminded herself that the future was ahead of her and not behind. Sentimental journeys were for the old and decrepit or the mentally weak. It was time to give this crap up.

Buck Was A Soldier

Once upon a time there was a man boy named Buck. He was like other boys in that he loved to build with blocks, to play cops and robbers, to ride his bike and to collect bugs and get into all manner of trouble.

In short Buck was like every other ten year-old boy in all ways. Well, almost all ways. When Buck was eight he watched his mother and father die in front of him. They were robbed on a street corner. For less than twenty dollars a man stole their lives and profoundly influenced an impressionable little boy.

At first Buck went to live with his grandparents. He was happy there and for a time it began to appear as if the chaos that his life had been thrown into would be erased. His grandfather still worked as an accountant and his grandmother continued to be a housewife. In many ways it was very similar to the life he had been living with his parent.

But life has a way of not allowing you to grow too comfortable. Become too happy and some supreme being decides that you are ready to be tested or messed with. It doesn’t really matter why, all that matters is that it happens and you have to act or react to it.

In Buck’s case the second great tragedy of his life came when his grandmother had a heart attack and died. It was a natural death, she was 74 years-old. Buck sobbed through her funeral and alongside his grandfather he enjoyed a very somber ride back to the house. While in the Hearse his grandfather explained that it was time for him to grow up and that this would be the last time he could cry in public. If he wanted to be a man he needed to show the world that he was tough. From now on he had to be a soldier, he had to be like G.I. Joe.

And that meant that he had to listen to the orders of the General and there was no misunderstanding who the general was or why he was in charge. Before his grandmother had died he would come home to a warm house in which someone was glad to see him and interested in his day. Not to mention the many occasions in which she surprised him by having baked cookies. The house always smelled great and years later the smell of fresh baked cookies would always make him think of his grandmother.

Now he returned to an empty home. It was dark and uninviting, a cold home that had once held so much warmth. Buck couldn’t blame his grandfather, it wasn’t like he didn’t speak to him or act uninterested in his life. Grandfather was always careful to inquire about school, to offer his assistance and to try and be a father. But in the best of times he had as much warmth as a porcupine and so it was that a little boy in dire need of affection never really got what he was looking for and so desperately needed.

Time passed and the months turned into years. Buck was no longer just a boy, not in any sense of the word. By the time he was fourteen he had grown into a very solid young man, while not very tall he was quite broad and quite strong. Not to mention that he had a very heavy beard and dark hair peppered his chest. And so it came as no surprise to anyone who knew his story that he found himself getting into trouble.

His grandfather still worked an eight hour day, but it was becoming clear that he would not be able to keep that up for much longer. The death of his wife had aged him as had taking on the responsibility of raising a child. Still grandfather kept on moving. He didn’t know any way to live other than how he had for years. So he trudged into his office and in darkness he returned home.

It was an autumn day when life punched Buck in the mouth again. There was a chill in the air and grandfather had decided to split some wood. It was one of the simple pleasures in life he took. He would tell Buck that there was nothing more rewarding for a man than working with his hands.

Out in the crisp clean air he pulled on his gloves and began to prepare firewood to be used on the colder nights. He hadn’t been working very hard or for very long when his heart gave out. Grandfather died of a massive heart attack. Again it was a natural death, at the ripe old age of 83 he left the world and went to wherever the body and soul go after death.

Buck was 17. At the funeral he remembered his grandfather’s words and like a good soldier he shed no tears.

The Past Is The Present

Some people never develop any coping skills. The wounds of their past never heal, scabs and scar tissue build up and momentarily halt the bleeding, but it is a temporary fix. And like all such band-aids are prone to being ripped off. Sometimes the exposure to air is good for such hurts and sometimes they remind you that the pain is never far from the surface.

Physical pain can be debilitating, but it never will hold the same sway as mental pain. Mental pain hangs over you, a banshee whose wails of pain and sorrow remind you of past failure, the scream a bitter reminder that there are times when you just didn’t get it done or that sometimes your best just wasn’t good enough.

So the question comes down to how you deal with those moments. Can you accept your shortcomings and move ahead or do you get bogged down in the what-if moments and spend time replaying the moment in your mind searching for a better outcome.

The greatest professional athletes learn how to overcome this. The Michael Jordans of the world don’t remember the shot that they didn’t make or the play that fragmented. They live in a space in which the rarified air they breathe doesn’t allow that. Supreme confidence that they will change the outcome to one that is more favorable allows them to move past the failures and they do fail.

Jordan’s dream of becoming a professional baseball player didn’t quite materialize. Only a few remember Nick Anderson stealing the ball and the eventual loss to the Magic in the playoffs. It was a momentary setback, but one that spurred more work and more effort to reclaim his spot at the top of the pyramid.

But there is a reason why the world is populated with fewer Michael Jordans and more ordinary people. Before Georgie I had been much more like Jordan able to just move on and forget. But that was the past and now I lived in a world that was not so bright, the light was much dimmer and the prospects less interesting.

I live in a place in which I yearn for instant replay, the prayers in which I beg for a referee to come out onto the field and penalize the other guy for an illegal play. A chance to gain yardage that was unfairly stolen from me. An opportunity to ignore Georgie’s advances and to take the other path.

It never happens, even in my dreams, even those moments in which she is still by my side I always witness her departure and relive her loss.

And it is all because I let myself be taken in by that asshole Georgie. Georgie who stole all that was good and holy in my life and replaced it with shit. In the fantasy books of my youth Georgie was the demon whose magic made him appear to be beautiful but to those few who could really see he was always a hideous repulsive maggot eaten mess.

The long arm of Father Time eventually wraps us all in his embrace, but it is a hug that is neither tender nor loving. The claim that time heals all wounds is a myth, it merely dulls the pain.

A Soldier Follows Orders

Just prior to the start of the funeral the family was invited into a private room to say their goodbyes. Artificial lighting shone upon faded blue paint and bad artwork. Couches that had seen better days and lamps that looked like garage sale rejects added to the sterile ambiance.

Buck found himself standing next to an open casket, his grandfather lay before him. He was clad in a black suit. A cigar was in his coat pocket and his arms were laid out alongside the body. Whoever had prepared him had taken the time to add a little color to his cheeks. It was done to make the body look less dead but there is a reason that corpses are described as being pallid and once the light is extinguished it is gone for good.

After a few moments the director of the home quietly interrupted Buck and asked him if he expected any more family members to arrive. A short nod was all it took to indicate that Buck was it. Outside in the chapel there were only a handful of people there to bare witness to the interment of Buck’s grandfather. None of them came back to the house and only one or two of them spoke with Buck. It wasn’t clear if they were trying to be courteous or considerate of privacy. But it was very clear to Buck that he was finally completely alone.

The house was paid for and as the sole heir the title was given to Buck as was a very modest inheritance. It wasn’t much, but it was enough money to cover his needs for a short while, especially given his Spartan lifestyle. Many teenagers in similar circumstances have found it to be overwhelming, not Buck. For all intents and purposes he had been living on his own since the death of his grandmother, if not his parents. So he had become accustomed to solitude and had long since developed a tremendous work ethic.

The combination made it easy for him to adjust to his circumstances. In fact, he preferred to be by himself. Crowds and large numbers of people made him uncomfortable. He didn’t enjoy small talk and if forced to socialize would find a corner of the room in which he would sit quietly, dark eyes impenetrable but observant.

A short time after his grandfather’s death Buck received a letter from the local draft board informing him that Uncle Sam was ready to receive him as the newest member of the armed forces. In some ways this was one of the best things that could have happened to Buck. He hadn’t been much of a student and did not have any ideas on what kind of profession he was interested in.

Military life suited Buck. He liked the discipline and the sense of purpose it gave him. He made it through basic training without any major issues and in time was shipped overseas where it became apparent that if he had been a man of faith he either would have lost it completely or become a devout zealot.

Thanks to shithouse luck Buck had become acquainted with death at a young age, but it wasn’t until his squad inadvertently stumbled upon an enemy encampment that Buck learned about death first hand. If you were to ask the survivors how it all happened none of them could tell you how, but they could answer the what, at least when it came to Buck.

People react differently during moments of trauma and great stress. Here is what we know about Buck. The expression on his face hardly changed. Bullets were flying and he looked like he was playing poker. While returning fire his rifle jammed, but he remained nonplussed by it. There are stories of men who during moments like this charge the enemy in a suicidal rage determined to take as many out as they can.

Buck got up and just began walking towards the men who were firing at him. His steps were measure and with purpose. It was clear to those who saw him that this was not battle fatigue or a manifestation of a mental breakdown. He knew what he was doing. Somehow he got to the other side without being hit. This is the point at which the stories of the other men conflict with each other.

Some say that he grabbed an enemy soldier and cut his throat. Others say that he beat him to death with his rifle. The one thing that they all agree upon is that Buck killed a man and then took a moment to remove the head from the body and he did it without a smile, a grunt or any indication that he felt anything at all.

When asked about it later he had refused to discuss it and so no one really knew why he had done it, just that he had.


The love that I had once known entered my life when I was still in school. I’d like to say that like so many great love stories I knew from the start that one day she would be mine, but that would be a lie. We started going to school together when we were in junior high, but neither one of us knew each other then. Different circles and different classes made certain that our paths never crossed each other.

She liked to tell me that she was certain that we had passed each other in the hall. She said that I looked familiar and she wondered if we had swung on the same swing set at the park or if our families had eaten at the same restaurant on the same nights. It was all possible, we did grow up a few miles apart.

Of course it might as well have been ten thousand miles because I really didn’t know a thing about her. If I hadn’t decided to take a biology class instead of life science I might not have ever met her, and even then it took a push from someone else to make it happen, namely the teacher.

Mr. Constantine liked the lab partners to be couples his term, not ours. He said that it made for less fooling around in class, that the boys were less likely to try and impress the girls by doing something stupid if they were paired with a girl. During our first lab she was all business. I can’t remember anymore what it was. Again if this were some kind of movie I’d say that the reason for my memory loss was because I was too busy staring at her. But that is not the case.

I don’t remember because I didn’t much like the class and I spent as much time as I could day dreaming about other places. She didn’t appreciate the lack of attention and made a point of telling me that she expected me to carry some of the load because she wouldn’t accept my getting the same grade as her unless I did some work.

That was the day I learned that I was insouciant. Of course I didn’t know what the word meant, but she was happy to tell me. I suppose that she knew what her feelings were for me long before I realized that I was interested in her. I was a goofy high school kid who couldn’t decide whether I wanted to be tough and cool or just tough, or just cool. That is the beauty and the curse of high school, the chance to become someone or something.

If you asked me to tell you when it was that I noticed her I couldn’t tell you that either, at least not specifically. However I do remember when I realized that I was attracted to her. She was wearing a skirt with boots, black boots and some kind of top. Her black hair was in some kind of feminine hair torture device and she smelled amazing. It was awesome and scary.

Scary because as I realized that I was attracted to her I got the normal teenage boy response and didn’t know how to hide my attraction and excitement at being close to her. I must have turned red because she asked me if everything was ok and I really began to feel a little sick. I was sure that she could see that she had gotten a rise out of me. We were standing at our lab station and I did everything I could to try and hide behind the desk, not that it mattered. I felt naked and exposed. So I did what teenage boys do and tried to be cool as I launched a spitball at the guy at the station next to me.

I don’t have to tell you that she didn’t think that it was cool and that her disdain only made me feel worse. The boy that was on the receiving end of the spitball returned fire and I threw a book at him. It wasn’t his fault, but raging hormones made me act like an idiot. It wasn’t the last time that I acted the fool because she was close to me.

Constantine made it worse by grabbing my shoulder and trying to spin me around to get my attention. Since I was already in full blown idiot mode I threw him off of me and stormed out of the classroom. As a thank you the school gave me a two day vacation and detention.

And then just to rub salt in my wounds when I returned from my suspension she tried to switch lab partners, said that she couldn’t work with someone who was so childish. I don’t think that Constantine ever forgot or forgave me for my part in embarrassing him in front of the class so he refused to move me. I think that he thought that she would be a bitch and punish me, or maybe not. Who knows, it really doesn’t matter anymore, does it.

All I know is that I spent my suspension dreaming about her and fantasizing about asking her out. At last school had a purpose, there was a reason for me to attend. Now I just needed to figure out how to get her to go out with me. And that was something that I had no clue how to make happen.

But I figured that a boy who was insouciant had to be of some interest to her, didn’t I?