Category Archives: Emotional

Anything that expresses my frustration, sadness, or otherwise puts my heart on a sleeve. This is basically proof that I don’t care what anyone thinks of me.

On Tragedies

In Matthew 22:36-40, when Jesus reiterates that the greatest commandments are to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” and to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” I’m beginning to think his words are less of a lesson for the good way in which to live and more of a warning about how to protect ourselves from evil, present and future, and ultimately to prevent evil from metastasizing in man in the first place.

Let me explain.

On Sunday morning, when I woke up, I decided to take advantage of the “fall back” rollback of the clock and sleep in an extra few hours. I finally got up about 11:30, made breakfast, showered, and, seeing as how it was too late to go to church, watched half a video on YouTube, then played a computer game I bought years ago but only just now installed called Railroad Tycoon 2, and did so until about 3:30 when I realized my train stations were costing me more to operate than they were paying me, and my company was basically going bankrupt, and to continue the same game was ludicrous. Once I felt like I’d had a sufficient day of rest and turned off the game, I went into the living room, checked out what was on television, and then my heart sank.

Another mass shooting. This time in Texas. This time in a church. This time with a casualty and injury rate at near 100%.

I just stood there thinking, “I can’t take this anymore.”

Never mind that this tragedy hits close to home for many, many churchgoing people, including myself (when I go), or that once again we’re talking about a soft target, or a group of Christians, or what-have-you that’s cause for us to collectively shake our heads and cry. Sunday’s tragedy speaks to a scary reality we face today, in that nothing is sacred anymore.

My mom was telling me earlier that when she was a kid, my grandmother would go into the church and pray at any hour of the day or night because the church was always open because there was no reason to ever lock it, and if someone wanted to go in and pray in the middle of the night, they could. Now we have a lady in the Sutherland Springs, Texas area explaining that until Sunday morning, November 5, 2017, her community was just as safe, so much so that she could leave her keys in the car without worry of someone taking it, except now they’re dealing with the reality that evil can strike anywhere in any way, and that no one is truly safe anymore, and that keeping one’s keys in a car without worry doesn’t mean that he or she is exempt from the horrors that seem to bleed in through all cracks in our modern society, which include mass murder that can physically destroy 8% of a town’s population and emotionally destroy the rest of it.

As of this writing, I don’t know why the gunman did this sick thing, nor do I know just how far this story will go from here. We still have Las Vegas fresh in our minds, as well as the attack on pedestrians in New York (where the assailant rented a Home Depot truck and used it to run people over). My guess is that we’ll have Big Media and Congress running through their usual talking points about gun violence, gun laws, and all of those other dead end channels that seem to always saturate the discussion without coming up with a solution that would actually work, and that a week from now, no one who has a say in what comes next will do anything that will actually prevent this problematic weed from sprouting up elsewhere. That’s how it’s been since Columbine, and here we are, yet again: same talking points, same lack of stopping it from happening again, same collective breath held for a change, and the hope that this is the last one.

I’m sad, not just about the tragedy, but about the fact that no one seems to get it anymore that the problem isn’t guns, rented trucks, or even rhetoric. I’m not even sure if the problem is entirely based on mental illness or flawed ideology. I think much of the problem today is with evil itself, and evil exists where love is absent. Tell me I’m wrong.

Actually, I think there are two sources of evil—well, one source, but because we live in an “intellectual,” “civilized” or “free-thinking” society, I’ll refrain from pointing the blame squarely at the devil, even though that’s the only true source of evil, and the one that we’re foolish to ignore time and again, but there are two subsources we can actively combat, and by proxy combat the original source that most people today don’t want to acknowledge for whatever reason, even though that source is real and scheming against humankind—and they are selfishness and lies. Both fail to show love for other human beings, and both leave us wide open to carry out destructive tendencies when given permission to fester.

I don’t know the story yet about this new shooter, nor do I know the story about the shooter in Las Vegas. I don’t know what drove them to want to commit mass murder, but I’m willing to guess that they were either lied to by someone they trusted and they let that lie grow, or they lived a life without knowing real love, and filled that empty space with hate because if love is absent, then hate has more room to grow in its place.

When Jesus told us to love our neighbors as we do ourselves, I think He was warning us how to prevent violence from overtaking our world. Perhaps not ironically, it was hate and jealousy that put Him on the cross, so it’s not just a product of our time, but a product of our human nature to move to violence if we don’t have love in our hearts or understand the good things that we want to destroy.

Likewise, if we love our God with all of our hearts, and with all of our souls, and with all of our minds, then we’ll unlikely want to break His other laws, including the one that says, “Thou shall not commit murder.”

That’s my thought today. This should all sound obvious, but the fact that we’re still poisoning the world with hate and with actions taken in hate is proof that we still don’t get it, and we need to start figuring out how to better implement methods of exercising love for one another, even if we don’t always like one another. Is that easy? No. Is it necessary? Of course.

So, before we turn this conversation back to gun violence, can we at least address the problem of the absence of love for each other first? Not trying to be a hippie here. I just think among these other issues we’ve let our isolation from each other (thanks, cellphone!) bring out the worst in us far too often these days, and we need to address that.

I have more to say about this topic from the perspective of a writer, but I wanted to address the core issue first, which is that we, as a people, need God’s help again, not political intellect or talking points, and that we’d be foolish not to seek it.

Love your God. Love your neighbor. Love yourself. If we all do these three things, we’ll see a change in our world for the better. That’s what I often think about each time somebody does the opposite of these things, opposite like what one person did on Sunday morning in Sutherland Springs, Texas to more than 20 churchgoers, including babies.

Cover image by Pixabay

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What Blows Around, Comes Around (Part 4)

So, if today is Saturday, then Hurricane Irma is eminent, and by the time this article airs, it may be knocking at my door. Because I’m writing this ahead of time (on Wednesday evening), I don’t actually know what’s coming, or what’s happening as this goes live. But according to forecasts, the odds of tropical storm force winds coming across Florida within the next few hours is somewhere between very high and certain, and that’s assuming that it’s not already here.

Whatever happens, there’s one thing I can probably guarantee: Based on what it’s done to the Lesser Antilles, and based on what it will probably do to the East Coast, “Irma,” which has replaced 2011’s Hurricane Irene on the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization’s naming list, will be a one-and-done (well, two-and-done if you count “Irma’s” last appearance in 1978). What does that mean? Simple, it means this:

Everyone who’s a big deal who comes to Florida comes here to retire. This includes old people, sports stars, and hurricanes.

When “Irma” gets to Florida, I’m sure she’s coming here to retire.

Unfortunately, that’s not a positive. My 2006 article, “What Blows Around, Comes Around” explains this retirement of hurricanes in detail.

The Politics of Weather

Every year that destructive hurricanes strike land, the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization receives a petition for name retirement.  Nations will submit the names of hurricanes that caused extensive damage or loss of life in their lands to the WMO Regional Association, with the hope that those names will be taken out of circulation.  Of the eight names that I mentioned in the last segment, all of them were submitted and approved for retirement, along with one more in 2005, a storm named “Stan.”

Retirement is issued to a storm when it becomes a topic of sorrow for the people affected.  I tend to think of it more as a way to make the storm legendary.  For example, who could forget the three-day old storm that struck Mississippi in 1969 named “Camille”?  She started out as nothing, blew up into a monster overnight, and leveled the Mississippi coast two days later.  She was just another blip on the radar until she made her mark, and then, like a phantom mistress, she was gone in the night.  But she left her mark on American history.  One storm, one name—both never to return again.

What of our recent copycat, “Katrina”?  Like “Camille,” she blew up out of nothing and charged for the northern Gulf Coast, causing untold death and destruction.  Sure, her name had been used before in the last round, in 1999, and once before way back in 1981, but she didn’t do anything but rain on Central America as a 40mph tropical storm in ‘99, or do anything but pass over the Haiti/Dominican Republic border in ‘81.  Now that she’s left her mark in history, would it make sense for her name to be used again?  Why should the memory of New Orleans or her significance in history be bastardized with a weak return in 2011?

I tend to get fascinated over the history of particular named storms.  Some people think I’m crazy for thinking this way, but here’s my logic: as a fiction writer, all characters have an identity.  That identity begins with a name.  Just as each of us began life not as a musician or a construction worker, but as a name, so a character must start his journey as a hero or a villain with a name.  Likewise, a hurricane must start its journey of passivity or aggression with a name.  The heroes, those hurricanes that don’t hit anyone, always return six years later (if they’re low enough on the list).  The villains, however, the ones that haunt our thoughts, are the ones that go down in history.  It becomes a fascination, then, to see which names of the new season become heroes, and which ones become villains.

Those of us who grow up with the uncertain dread of what might happen between June and November of each year get this sick little joy from sharing our name with a hurricane.  Though, I have yet to have my name on the list in any basin around the world (there are eight basins, I believe), I still wonder what a hurricane with my name could do.  Will it be a passive storm, sputtering out in the middle of the ocean where the winds of sheer destroy it?  Or will it be a history maker, a force so bad that it convinces a city to implement new ordinances to protect it from future damage of similar nature?  Will it be a wimpy storm like “Alex” (“Andrew’s” replacement), who tries every six years to make its mark, only to fail by circumstances of weak power and poor direction?  Or will it be a devastating storm like “Ivan” the terrible, who knocked a section of I-10 into a chasm; or “Wilma” the Flintstone, who ripped apart entire networks of telephone poles along Federal Highway between Boynton Beach and Lake Worth, singing the words: “yabba dabba doo,” which isn’t far off from the sound the howling wind makes, all the way to the beach on her first run?

Names are a big part of a hurricane’s existence, so it leaves me to wonder why it has to be up to the targeted nations to make the call about its future.  If it’s about death, destruction, insurance, or confusion (the last being a symptom of what might happen if the World Meteorological Organization were to rename a future storm “Camille” or “Andrew”), then why let the history makers return if the affected nations fail to submit a plea to retire it?

There are two names I think about every time I think about hurricane retirement: “Emily” and “Gordon.”

“Emily” had been making appearances every six years since she was first introduced in 1981.  Like “Frances,” she showed up over and over again, trying to make her mark on someone, but just couldn’t muster up the right ingredients.  In 2005, “Emily” finally performed the tasks necessary to be considered for retirement.  Just as “Frances” finally made her mark in 2004 (after nearly ten attempts since the ‘60s), “Emily” made her mark last season.  She was a Category 5 storm that, like “Wilma,” smacked into the Yucatan Peninsula as a Category 4 storm, stirred up trouble all over Mexico, and went out, finally, in a blaze of glory.  In a year full of hurricane insanity, she was a star.  But of the six hurricanes to wreck the Atlantic Basin, she was the only one slighted for retirement consideration.

“Gordon” was the name to replace “Gilbert,” when “Gilbert caused enough damage to come off the list in 1988.  “Gordon” made his first appearance in 1994 as a minimal hurricane, but one that dumped waves of rain on the mountains of Haiti; one that ultimately killed more than eleven hundred people.  This same storm later moved into South Florida as a tropical storm and tried to kill me when I was on my way to work, when I was getting tailgated by a florescent green car carrier on I-95, when I later hydroplaned off the exit ramp into Palm Beach Gardens and landed in a ditch at the bottom of the bend, where no one, not even the police officer who saw me struggling, offered to help me out.

Both of these storms were prime candidates for retirement in those years, but were overlooked for one reason: politics.

“Emily” was passed over in 2005, allegedly because her damage, though extensive, was minimal compared to what “Wilma” did to that same region three months later.  Even though Florida could’ve used the same excuse to slight “Frances” in favor of “Jeanne,” who hit the same exact area three weeks later, the state chose to bury them both into the history books once and for all, for they both sucked.  Mexico didn’t take that road, however.  The nation chose to favor the latter storm, as if only one could take the honor.

“Gordon” was passed over in 1994, simply because Haiti had bigger problems than hurricanes to deal with that year.  There was a political coup happening that took top priority with its government, which “Gordon,” as bad as it was, could not steal away.  So when it came time for the nations’ vote on their retirement nominees, “Gordon” was not to be seen.  Incidentally, no one in 1994 came off the list, as “Gordon” was the only bad boy of the bunch.  Now, in 2006, “Gordon” had since returned, but so far has yet to impress anyone with his fury.

This brings about my question: why wait for a nation to submit a name?  Shouldn’t there be an in-house panel at the World Meteorological Organization who can retire noteworthy hurricanes without national outcry?  Historically, notable storms have been submitted for retirement, but only by those nations that had nothing else going on that year.  In the case of these two storms, which by all rights and purposes should’ve made the list for their respective years, it would have benefited the Atlantic and the hurricanes’ victims had the WMO just taken the reigns away from the political institutions that were responsible for making the call.  Then, “Emily” could receive her justice, and “Gordon,” the storm that nearly killed me, would never again have to haunt me with another appearance.  Chalk up another victory for politics.

For Reference

For a full history of all tropical storms and hurricanes, including the ones mentioned in this essay, as well as information about naming systems, how hurricanes work, etc., visit the Weather Underground at www.wunderground.com or the National Hurricane Center at www.nhc.noaa.gov for all the resources you could ever need.  The first site stays current, with weather blogs written by experts that outline the potential for a storm, while the latter, though more official, tends to lag in information by a year or more.  They’re great places to visit if you’re in a panic over a storm.  You can also look up hurricanes through Google if you’re feeling really ambitious.

(end of “What Blows Around, Comes Around”)

Back to the present (2017), I hope those of you who are reading this are staying out of harm’s way. For me, I’m probably in the middle of it because I’ve got nowhere better to go. But my house is sturdy. Hopefully. But, if the people of Texas who went through Harvey (another storm likely to retire this year) are of any inspiration, then I can say that no matter how soft or hard this storm might be, we can still get through it if we stick together and don’t complain too much.

That said, if this storm does stay on its current track (as of Wednesday’s predictions, which is all I have at the time of this writing), then I’ll be without power for a few days, and I won’t be quick to answer any comments posted here. But, if you are one of the people in the path of this storm, and if you haven’t been through one like it before, and if you somehow found a way to read this (it’s 2017, so you’re probably on your fully powered smartphone, something we didn’t have in 2005), remember that the aftermath of a hurricane is generally very quiet, and you’ll suddenly find yourself able to think again, which isn’t so bad.

And, if you are in the storm’s path tonight, good luck. Hoping for the best for me, too.

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Cover Image: Pixabay

What Blows Around, Comes Around (Part 3)

With Hurricane Irma moving closer and closer, tensions are undoubtedly rising throughout the southern East Coast. But Florida is no stranger to hurricanes, nor is it a stranger to bad hurricanes, and just as Hurricane Irma is similar to last year’s Hurricane Matthew in path and in hype, it’s no stranger to hurricanes that share basic qualities to other high-profilers that have recently preceded it.

In the third section of my 2006 article “What Blows Around, Comes Around,” I break down the characteristics of Florida’s last major hurricane hit, Hurricane Wilma, and how it relates to other hurricanes of its era. It’s easy to see that we can learn from anything, yet we can’t know everything.

The Familiarity of “Wilma”

On the morning of October 24, 2005, Hurricane Wilma, a major storm that chose to use my town as her exit point into the Atlantic, became the eighth hurricane to hit or pass Florida in two seasons.  Ironically, she had something in common with each of the first seven:

Like “Rita,” she passed through a narrow channel of water, before heading for open waters where she would later pick up steam to smash against her targeted coastline; “Rita” picking Texas, while “Wilma” picked us.  She, like “Rita,” also inundated the Keys.

Like “Katrina,” she surprised the world (or at least our section of it) when she suddenly transformed from a nobody to a reckless Category 5 storm, taunting her targets with unknown destruction.  She also shared the history board with “Katrina” in that “Katrina” set the “costliest storm” record at over $80 million dollars, while “Wilma” set the “most intense hurricane” record when she dropped to 882mb, which would’ve made her a nightmare over the Caribbean.  Also, like “Katrina” and “Rita,” she was a 2005 Category 5 storm that had the letter “A” ending her name.

Like “Dennis,” she set a time record for earliest something.  For “Dennis,” he was the earliest Category 4 formation and strike in the Atlantic Basin’s history.  For “Wilma,” she was the earliest formation of the twenty-first storm (which only happened one other time in recorded history).  Her formation also marked the first time that the seasonal naming chart had been exhausted.  This was a thrill to me, because I’ve always wanted to know what happened if a twenty-second storm formed and there were no more names to label it.  Now I know.  “Alpha” came about while “Wilma” blitzed the Yucatan.

Like “Jeanne,” she became the reckless youngest daughter of her family (family being major storms of a season), and proved once and for all that she would not be forgotten.  Also, like “Jeanne” she dilly-dallied in a faraway place before making the turn to strike South Florida, and blazed a trail for the coast, jumping from a Category 2 to a Category 3 at the last possible minute before landfall.  Also, like “Jeanne,” she confirmed to Floridians that hurricanes were nature’s way of harassing us.

Like “Ivan,” she left Floridians lingering with dread as we wondered where the Category 5 storm would go, and what it would do when it got there.  Also, like “Ivan,” she set a personal record, where “Ivan” became the southernmost tropical storm formation in Atlantic history, while “Wilma” became the fastest drop in pressure (she lost 100mb in 24 hours, which is also nearly a world record).

Like “Frances,” she was a massive storm that lumbered about for so long that she pummeled her first target for three days.  Though “Wilma” shot over South Florida in less than five hours, she hammered the Yucatan Peninsula as a Category 4 storm for an entire weekend.  “Frances,” though only a Category 2 at the time, did the same thing to us the year before—on a weekend.

Finally, like “Charley,” she surprised the National Hurricane Center, and the citizens of South Florida, when she significantly increased in speed at a critical time.  While “Charley” leapt from a Category 2 to a Category 4 about two hours before landfall, “Wilma” leapt from a tropical storm to a Category 5 about two days out from the Yucatan.  This made life ominous for South Florida when the National Hurricane Center said she was coming for us next, and that her navigation around the cliffs of the Yucatan would decide whether she hit us with Category 2 strength or Category 5 strength.  Also, like “Charley,” she swung into South Florida from the west coast between Naples and Ft. Myers, before making a beeline straight for my house, previously in Altamonte Springs, this time in Lake Worth.

(Part 4 tomorrow)

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Cover Image: Pixabay

What Blows Around, Comes Around (Part 2)

Childhood memories are some of the most precious things we store in our human central processing units, called brains. As we get older and more cynical toward the world, we cherish more the fondness of revisiting that time or place that once kept our joy, like amusement parks on a warm, summer day, or a snowy mountain on a warm, summer day (it could happen in high places), or in the middle of a bakery where our favorite pies are made.

We hold photo albums and souvenirs of the past to keep the memories alive, and doing so seems to maintain most of us with pretty rational thought or action. But, when our memories are suddenly threatened by a force outside of our control, we may find that rationale chucked out the window, and our greatest panic may turn to our greatest sorrow. Such is the case when loss is inevitable.

The following story is a continuation of my 2006 article, “What Blows Around, Comes Around,” about the futile reality of holding on to fickle child memories during a catastrophic weather event.

To Shed a Tear

By eleven years old, I had grown accustomed to using my backyard shed as a training module for the things that a young boy pretends to train for.  The green tin storage chamber, with the broken doors and the eagle emblem nailed to the triangular white headpiece, stood tall as my friends and I used it for a number of faculties, including rain sheltering, target practice (squirt guns opened-fire on the eagle), and the home base for our epic neighborhood Hide and Seek games.  Though it claimed to be a run-of-the-mill tool shed—storing such things as my family’s lawnmower, toolboxes, rakes and shovels—my friends and I knew better.  With a grimy ladder pressed against an exterior wall, we’d occasionally climb to the top of the damaged roof to see how tough our guts were.  As far as I could remember, no one fell.

“Eagle Base,” as it was later christened for its role in our Hide and Seek games, stood tough against a number of elemental hazards, from common rainstorms to a couple incidents of hail.  With two large trees protecting each side and a number of object barriers including flowerpots and ladders lining its base, even the worst events, including the big March storm of 1993 (a monster weather maker that hit the entire east coast at once) couldn’t touch it.

The shed, though, didn’t stand without some opposition.  In 1979, during its early years of existence, it stood upright and fully formed.  Just as it had for the decades to follow, the little tin structure housed its tools with complete vigilance.  When the tools weren’t used, it protected them with closed doors, just as it was designed to do.  But not far into the second half of the year, it faced its first formidable opponent of its life: Hurricane David.  Though the storm was only a Category 1 at the time of its arrival, the reckless winds pounded those doors with iron fists, knocking them into submission.  By the time the storm passed, the doors were bent and pushed off their tracks, never again to close properly.

That incident could’ve disheartened the shed, but no, the youthful structure went on.  As the ‘80s approached and I became steadily more aware of the world (I was only three at the start of the decade), I began to discover its many uses as a “training center.”  From there, it became an important part of my life.

As the years passed, and my childhood transformed into adolescence, “Eagle Base” steadily transformed into a household utility center.  Although I hated yard work at the time, I still found myself scouring the hull for rakes and shovels on those weekends when my parents wanted me to pick up leaves or fallen oranges.  I wasn’t a fan of the structure in those times, because the grimy foundation became a reminder that going in meant having to take another shower later, which meant I was going to feel nasty in the meantime.  But even in my teenage grumbling, the shed stood tall.

Toward my adulthood, it transformed from a mere utility center to a shelter for cats during rainstorms.  Every once in awhile, a new stray would find its way to my front porch, coming from some undisclosed place up the street.  After hanging out for a while, deciding it would adopt us, the cat would then move to the backyard, where it would take up arms on the deck or under the clothesline.  During sunny days, the cats would roam fearlessly around the four corners of the backyard.  During rainy days, however, they’d disappear.  For the pregnant ones looking for a new home, the shed became a place to give birth and to keep the new litter dry.

More years passed, and more abuse befell it—including a tall object puncturing the roof from the inside, and a large hole wearing through the right wall—but it continued to stand, old but proud.  As I reached my twenties, the old “Eagle Base” became a centerpiece for an expanding garden, starting with the Schefflera to its left and a small palm tree to its right.  Though the trees made getting behind the shed difficult (with only a few feet of yard between the wall and the surrounding fences), they did so with aesthetic pleasure, making the wounded structure appear at rest.

In 2002, the Florida Holly along the back fence grew tangled, so much that it became a hazard.  During this summer and the one to follow, I found myself out there sawing away at its tree branches—the ones too high to make my reach comfortable.  The simple tasks of paring the tangled little beasts back, preventing the possibility of disaster striking our yard should another storm ever hit (which had been a rare thing since “Andrew” of 1992), turned into month-long projects.  Those projects, in turn, became annual events.  While all the trees in my yard became victims of the pole saw at one point or another, the dreaded Florida Holly became my bane—the thing that bled sawdust in waves, but never fell under control.  By 2003, we had to cut it down.

We thought we had done the yard a favor.  When the jumbled mess of a tree came down that year, we thought we had spared ourselves from future disaster.  As the last remnants of the Florida Holly went to the sidewalk, we thought we had ensured “Eagle Base’s” life to last for good.

In 2004, our sense of security proved false.

Hurricanes came and went throughout the last twenty-five years, none doing to the shed what “David” did in its early years.  Though the doors piled up in the corner, never again to be used in regular service, we’d return them to their tracks for the brief moments when strong winds were promised, and they would hold long enough to keep the contents inside safe.  Because no storm since 1979 packed a zephyr so fierce, we didn’t think any future storm would challenge it.  Placing the doors back on their tracks for the arrival of yet another storm seemed like a good idea.

Hurricane Frances, the second of four Florida storms that year, threatened to come into South Florida during the first weekend in September.  I had just returned home from my year in Altamonte Springs, having gotten through “Charley” just two weeks earlier, and now I had to stare this new monster in the eye.  The news promised a huge storm, but I just shrugged it off.  I came home, relaxed a couple of days, prepared for the hurricane, and then headed to my grandmother’s with my family to help her through the storm.  I didn’t even bother unpacking my stuff.

With family and two cats in tow, we made it to my grandmother’s condo, where we hung out in front of the TV for several hours, then sat in the dark as the power went out.  We stayed in that little unlit condo for three days.  “Frances” was not only huge; she was slow.

That was Friday.  We returned Monday, after an exhaustive ordeal of winds and heat, to explore the damage left to our home.  As usual, the house came through unscathed.  As usual, it boasted the expected fallen leaves and branches, with the occasional trash.  As usual, it didn’t seem like the storm had been that big of a deal.

Except, something was different than before.  This time, a new story befell our backyard:

As usual, the shed endured the onslaught of those 80mph winds.  For three days those winds blasted, but they weren’t enough for the tired old veteran to submit.  “Frances” kept howling, but the old tin structure kept resisting.  She whipped it with wind gusts reaching close to a hundred, but the creaks of sheet metal endured her wrath; the shed vibrating fiercely, but fighting with everything it had.  It was the fight of its life, but the old coot stood.

Finally, on the third day, “Frances” realized “Eagle Base” was winning the battle, just as it had won against “David” in its youth, and so she was scared.  She came here with a mission, refusing to leave it unfilled.  But sensing her time to win growing short, she knew she had to do something, something underhanded if the tide didn’t turn in her favor.  It was a bloody fight she refused to lose.

The tide didn’t turn, so “Frances” stopped fighting fair and hit “Eagle Base” below the belt.  She snapped a large branch off the Schefflera tree—the tree I didn’t cut—and used it as her weapon.  When we came home Monday, we saw the results of the battle.  It seemed, at last, that “Eagle Base” had met its match.

The branch had fallen on the roof, crushing the structure into a mangled mess.  Under the branch, heaps of tin lay in piles on the old rocky foundation, burying shelves and tools like the lost bodies of a fallen tower.  A cross-shaped foot made of brass, belonging to a rack or a chair, poked out from underneath the triangular white headpiece, spelling out the tragedy of the shed’s last stand.  With a layer of leaves covering it over its still grave, the last visible trace of the old glory of my childhood set nailed securely against the headpiece: the black eagle emblem, the signature of “Eagle Base,” unmoved, but clearly lost of its purpose.

Normally, I try not to weep over the loss of an inanimate object, especially not one that served primarily as a place to store a lawnmower.  But it was hard to hold back the sorrow of that day, a day where my childhood refuge lay fallen.  The last vestige of that old life was gone.

An old childhood friend of mine came over that day, to see how we all panned out.  The power was off, the place was a wreck, and there was nothing really to do but to clean up.  He came over anyway to hang out, and I showed him what had happened.  This childhood friend, a grown man in his mid-twenties, a man who never cries, a man who never lets water drench his back, stood there marveling.  All he could say was, “But that was base.  You can’t destroy base.”

And that day, this grown man who only had half the memories of this little green tin structure that I had, felt sorrow, too.

It was base.  It was “Eagle Base.”  And like all veterans of battle, it had to retire.

Now, in 2006, the old foundation serves as a backyard patio, complete with chairs, table, and pirate wine barrel.  The old eagle emblem that used to loom over the shed’s entrance like a sentry, now sets nailed to the wall next to my front door, where it greets all who choose to enter.  And, like a dead relative who had a colorful past, the old shed lives on in pictures and in memory, where now it can never be forgotten.  So now let us hold a moment of silence for this inanimate wonder that breathed life into my youth, which could only fall by slide of hand.

(Part 3 tomorrow)

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Cover Image: Pixabay

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What Blows Around, Comes Around (Part 1)

I had originally scheduled a release for the final bonus chapter of the Marketing Author 001 today, but I decided to push that and all of my other upcoming releases back a week to focus on a more timely event.

About two weeks ago, Hurricane Harvey roared onto the coast of southeast Texas and caused extensive and catastrophic flooding damage to the region. It became a major historical event that will take a long, long time for the people of Houston and surrounding areas to recover from. Today, another storm, Hurricane Irma, is destroying the Lesser Antilles with 185 mph winds, and over the next couple of days will continue west through Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, Cuba, and the Bahamas, and by late this weekend, if the predicted track holds true, will makes its unwelcome appearance here in South Florida.

Now, last year in October, South Florida was threatened by another major storm, Hurricane Matthew, but that storm skirted the coast, as the big ones often do, and continued on north of us. The end result was bad for the Carolinas, but pretty tolerable here. I ended up keeping my lights on the whole time.

It’s easy to assume that Hurricane Irma will do something similar, especially when the projected track is already in close alignment with Matthew’s, and when the patterns of moving north ever so slightly, enough to change the potential landfall in fact, continue to persist.

But, as I’ve learned through years of preparing for absentee storms and bracing for the monsters that actually arrive, hurricanes are unpredictable, and expecting one to do exactly as another has done in the past is a mistake, and one that no one can afford to make.

Now, Hurricane Irma is still out there, and its effects on Florida and the rest of the East Coast have not yet been determined. It could come right up the middle of the state in the same way that Arnold Schwarzenegger went right up the middle of Buzzsaw, a villain he battles in 1987’s The Running Man. But it could also steer clear of the state entirely, spend some more time in the water, perhaps take a direct visit to Canada, and leave everyone else alone. Only time and history will tell, of course.

With the future of the storm unknown, but the lessons it can teach us still at the forefront, I thought it was time to reintroduce one of my older articles from 2006 about this very topic, told through the lens of The Big Four, the hurricanes that struck Florida in 2004, as a way to bring the legacies of the past into the relevance of the presence, and hopefully to remind those who read this to respect the power of a major hurricane, no matter where it goes or whom it affects.

I’ll be releasing this story in four parts, one each night until Saturday, when the storm prepares to hit. Because everything I’ve got coming up the line is on a schedule, my previously planned articles will still make landfall, whether I lose power or not, but a week later than planned. So, The Marketing Author 001, Part 13 will go live next Wednesday, September 13, and additional articles will follow on the 14th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd. Hopefully I’ll have power again by then. (Hopefully I won’t lose it in the first place.)

(Story begins below the photo of Key West getting slammed by a hurricane.)

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A History of Hurricanes

At the height of the 2004 Hurricane Season, a friend of mine asked if I had a hurricane magnet in my pocket.  I told him I did.  I had carried it around since August of that year, only briefly to pass it off at the start of 2005, just to reclaim it back to my possession near the height of that season.  It was an exciting thing—attracting so many anomalies over the course of fourteen months.  Even now as I write this, I have no guarantee that the phenomenon has run its course.  With some heavy hitting names like “Beryl,” “Florence,” and “Joyce” on the list, the 2006 season about to launch in six weeks will no doubt put the shade of red into Florida’s cheeks for the third year in a row.

Ah, the magic word: Florida, a peninsular state that weather experts all over the Western Hemisphere have whispered about for ages.  The target of more than a hundred spinners in as many years, the trap of tourists who eagerly race for the northern highways come August and September—that’s the magic kingdom we know as Florida.  My place of birth.  The land of my upbringing.  Florida.  Both the weatherman’s fantasy and his nightmare rolled up into one ball of emotion.  The state where insurance is an unpredictable commodity.  My home state.

Anyone who has watched CNN or the Weather Channel since August 2004 will know that Florida was stamped with a bull’s eye.  Those dormant weather makers that have teased us for years finally pounded on our front doors and demanded to rip us apart.  For two straight years.  With no guarantee that the torment has finished.  As I type this, the state is holding its breath.

The funny thing is that life didn’t start with such anxiety in the early days of my memory.  Even though some notorious storm systems made their way through my backyard over the years, none of them heightened my tension the way the 2004 season did.  My first recollection started with “David,” a 1979 storm that kicked the crap out of the Caribbean, but somehow lost its punch when it brushed the South Florida coast.  My father took me to the beach when the wind started churning, to show me the tide and to introduce me to the spectacle.  Where normally that would’ve been a bad idea (storm surges are usually inevitable with hurricanes), the punch was so weak that it didn’t seem like anything more than just another windy and rainy day.  And unless “David” was actually “Danny” (1985)—though I’m pretty sure I wasn’t anywhere close to nine years old yet—this thing reduced my fear of hurricanes to an almost nonexistent level.  Any time the “threat” of a hurricane became eminent, I just shrugged it off, as if it were another “David”—that horribly weak storm that couldn’t blow a leaf off a tree—that storm that unbeknownst to me at the time had killed way more than a thousand people on an island south of me and at one time packed Category 5 winds not even a week before passing over me.  Like most Floridians, I was disillusioned.  At three years old, I was disillusioned.

My eyes didn’t awaken to the true ferocity of a hurricane until thirteen years later—the year that Florida had gotten its dues for the first time in a generation.  In the late eighties, I heard about monsters like “Gilbert” (1988) and “Hugo” (1989) terrorizing the Atlantic and the Caribbean, but I figured they were products of a different world—a world that didn’t mess with Florida.  “Hugo” got my attention when the local news showed footage of his aftermath in Charleston, South Carolina, revealing a level of damage that seemed uncharacteristic of the hurricanes that I knew.  Wreckage remained where homes previously stood, and families sobbed over their hardened losses.  It was a strange sight to see.  The hurricanes in my world didn’t do such things.  The hurricanes in my world sent their gusty breezes, but not much else.  “Hugo” was no doubt a bit freaky.  But he was an anomaly.  Storms like him didn’t strike south of the Carolinas.  Storms like him only struck the Carolinas.

If only that were true.

Three years later, his hopped-up cousin came to town.

“Andrew” (1992) changed my mind about hurricanes forever, sort of.  When I was sixteen years old, I was hanging out with my youth group at the same beach where my father had taken me to see “David” so many years earlier.  We were there on the Saturday before the new school year started, undoubtedly trying to squeeze out the last remnants of our sacred vacation, and I had no idea that something big was brewing in the Atlantic.  The youth pastor’s wife mentioned that a storm was coming, but I didn’t think anything of it.  Storms that came after Florida were like de-clawed cats that came after pine trees.  Nothing about them spelled scariness.  But then, I went home to watch the news and felt my heart pound for the first time.  That little wimpy “Andrew” was packing over 150mph sustained winds.  And he was aiming for South Florida.  The storms that landed before him barely packed 80mph winds.  They weren’t anything to panic over.  But “Hugo” of South Carolina packed close to 140mph winds.  And that thing wrecked a community.  This “Andrew” was out there laughing at “Hugo,” and it was coming right for South Florida?  Laughing at us?  The arrival of a hurricane didn’t seem so comfortable all of a sudden.

Sunday was spent preparing the house for his arrival.  As a sixteen-year-old who didn’t want to be bothered with housework, I felt like I was wasting a perfectly nice day.  I hated the prep work involved with bracing a house for a hurricane, but I put up with it because I didn’t have much of a choice.  If “Andrew” was coming, he wasn’t going to be bringing roses.  I did what I was told.  And then, night fell.  The news was dedicated entirely to “Andrew” for the rest of the evening.  In my prior memories I couldn’t recall the news devoting so much of its airtime to a hurricane.  Undoubtedly, this one was serious.  And I kept myself glued to the television all night.

Even as my parents slept, I stayed in the living room monitoring the progress of this storm.  Not once did the wind speeds die during the course of its coming.  Somehow I expected it to lose its punch as it drew closer, but it kept coming, inching ever closer as the harbinger of doom.  I looked out my back window to see our palm tree whipping around as the winds kicked up to 60mph.  It was enough to bend the frond all the way down to the grass.  And the storm drew closer, holding its course.  All it needed was to shift direction toward the north by one degree and it would be upon me full force.  But it held its course—passing over the Bahamas, passing through the Florida straits, reaching the South Florida coast, hitting the city of Miami full force—brushing me with its 60mph shoulder.

It missed me.  The news showed the streets of metro Miami getting smashed with horribly fierce winds: traffic lights flinging around like rag dolls, streams of water rushing through the avenues at ungodly speeds.  But my palm frond continued to dance outside the back window, as if it knew the chance for fury had subsided.  When the sun came up a couple of hours later and the conditions failed to worsen, my trees, my home, and my neighborhood continued to stand.  The great and powerful “Andrew” kept his fury limited to the south.  The most we lost in the skirmish were a few leaves and the first day of school.  All was back to normal by Tuesday.  But the cameras were still rolling and the southern regions of Miami were on the news.  “Hugo” was reborn.  “Andrew” put the fear in me.

For the next couple of years I watched the news during hurricane season religiously.  For every new storm that surfaced, I had to find out what it was doing and where it was going.  Each week I waited to see if my home was destined for danger, but nothing came.  For two straight years, Florida received nothing in the catastrophe department like it did from “Andrew.”  Only “Gordon” (1994) stood a chance at re-igniting my fears, but that was due to something that happened on the highway.  All in all, Florida’s big hurricane crisis was limited to one isolated storm.  After the busy season of 1995, I became exhausted with hurricane news and decided I didn’t care anymore.  Each season before and after were as big of a bust as they were in the ‘80s.  We spent an entire day preparing for storms that eventually turned into “coastal riders.”  In 1999, the last straw hit me as I sat in my darkened house in Orlando waiting for a new monster to come at me.  “Floyd,” the first storm to put the fear in me since “Andrew,” came up to the Central Florida coastline near Daytona, promising to sweep across the state with an unholy swath of destruction in its Category 3 wake, and changed its mind.  At the last minute, the storm swung northward and rode up the coast into the Carolinas, where it rerouted its destructive intentions into some small towns in the northern state.  I was disappointed.

The thing that I learned from “Andrew” and confirmed in “Floyd” (and in many of the storms before and since) was that hurricanes, as destructive as they had the potential to be, were relentless teases.  The big ones had a habit of taunting me, making it clear that they were coming for my house, bringing the pain with them, but only the little ones ever followed through.  The ones that actually had damage potential put the fear in the local news enough to convince residents like me to board up, to bottle up, and to pack away a garage full of canned soup.  But at the last minute they’d change direction, and all of a sudden my entire Sunday was wasted.  No hurricane.  No danger.  Just a boarded up house and an idiot sitting inside.  By the start of the 2000s, I didn’t give any thought to hurricanes anymore.

My jaded heart against the hoopla continued all the way into the middle of August 2004.  On Wednesday, the night of the 11th, I walked around the aisles of a Blockbuster Video in Altamonte Springs, Florida (a suburb of Orlando), searching for DVDs, when I heard one of the clerks nearby talking about two storms that were churning near the state: “Bonnie” and “Charley.”  I didn’t listen very intently, because I no longer respected hurricanes for the dead-focused behemoths they should’ve been.  I walked home that night (I lived up the street from the store), putting the thought out of my mind.

The next day I walked to the pool to catch up on some reading, where I was surprised to see the deck chairs stacked up and roped off.  I thought the condo association was just cleaning the area, so I walked to the other pool across the parking lot to read there, instead.  But I discovered the same ordeal.  Without a place to sit, I decided to stick my feet into the pool and read by the steps.  And that’s when I noticed the fitness room across from the fence sealed off with the big giant “X” of masking tape.  Now I knew the comments from the night before meant something.

As it turned out, “Charley” was the one that got the clerk’s attention, as it was the one that got the condominium’s attention.  The forecast predicted it to come ashore near Gainesville as a Category 2, but the threat to Orlando was subjective.  Seeing as how the preparation efforts were primarily limited to masking tape coverings, I didn’t think much of it.  I went to sleep that night with my usual expectations.

The next day, however, my mood changed.  “Charley” had already become a Category 2 by the morning of Friday the 13th, but somehow, in the time it took for me to escape the Weather Channel in the early afternoon to go to the grocery store and to return an hour later, the entire forecast shifted.  When I headed back to my apartment, one of the neighbors stopped me and asked if I heard about the updates.  Since I was at Publix for the last hour, my answer was “no.”  Apparently, that wimpy little “Charley,” a former list-mate of “Andrew’s,” had blown up into a strong Category 4.  And it wasn’t heading for Gainesville any longer.  Now the forecast aimed it straight for Tampa Bay—a coastal region surrounded by three large cities.  For the first time in twelve years, I sensed that catastrophic destruction was coming.  Seeing a place on the news that I had just visited three months earlier, called The Pier, intensified my dread.  The last fond memory I had with a close friend, and the place that formed it, was endangered of getting wiped off the map.  My dread sunk in.

But then, “Charley” did something no one expected.  He shifted again.  As conditions in my own town drastically deteriorated, “Charley” took his aim off Tampa and moved into the coast with destructive power through a town called Port Charlotte near Fort Myers.  At Category 4 strength, he ripped through that region with the anger and fierceness of “Hugo,” but he wasn’t finished with them.  He had a mission—a significant point to prove.  After all the times I had been teased by weak storms and course-changing powerhouses, “Charley” initiated a war that would forever change my tune.  He came right for me—dead on.  That night, at 9pm, as my power blew out, the eye of this rampaging storm, which was supposed to strike Tampa Bay, reached I-4 in the Kissimmee region and rode the highway all the way up, past Universal Studios, through downtown Orlando, and right over Altamonte Springs—right over my buried head.  For the first time ever, I sat in a darkened room without windows, waiting for a fierce storm to pass by.

Within an hour, the 90mph winds died down and the eye was on top of me.  All was calm.  I waited for the backside to hit, but there wasn’t much to it.  It was in and out and on its way over Daytona by midnight.  I walked to my car to listen to the news.  Palm trees were decapitated all around the neighborhood.  A pile of fallen debris blocked the driver side of my poor Honda Civic (a car unfortunate enough to sit through four of these monsters).  An oak tree had fallen on top of one of the buildings next to the first pool.  Hurricane reality finally woke me up.  And “Charley” was just the warning shot.  The neighborhood was completely trashed, the city as a whole was littered with damaged signs and fallen trees, and “Charley” was only the beginning of a two-year nightmare.

(Part 2 tomorrow)

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When It’s Over

Originally posted to Facebook on:

December 31, 2012:

Most of you might be tempted to skip reading this based on the chunk of text that’s about to follow, but I’m gonna ask that you don’t because what I’m writing is not some frilly dissertation about what I want for lunch, but something that’s really been eating at me (no pun intended) for a long time that this weekend has fueled, and I’m tired of losing sleep over it. I feel it’s important enough to write, so I hope you’ll give it a fair chance. I don’t know how else to get this point across. If by the end you don’t agree with the points I’ve made, then I at least appreciate your taking the time to read it. For those who do agree, I appreciate hearing about why.

This weekend put reality back in my head, with the finding of the journal entries I had written following my dad’s passing 17 years ago, and discovering, on Facebook, that two other people I knew had died in the last couple of days. These discoveries, of course, cap what has been a dark December with the massacre in Sandy Hook taking place, and a really dark year in general with mass shootings at the movie theater in Aurora, another attempted shooting at a theater in San Antonio, mall shootings, hurricane, flooding, and tornado disasters, the war that never ends, and so on, and it’s a continuous somber cycle, and I don’t know how CNN deals with it, and it doesn’t end. Closer to home I’ve read about other news of deaths from you guys – of one of your late-20-early-30-something friends who unexpectedly dropped dead when he was healthy and playing racquetball the day before; of one of your 17-year-old sons who lost a close friend of the same age to something unexpected. Of the two people I know who passed this weekend, one was in his late 70s and was suffering from a long-term illness; the other was in his early 40s and collapsed on his way to pick up some lunch for his family. One was expecting it, as was his family; the other had no idea his time was up. And the one thing that everyone who died this year has in common is that they can no longer get this life right. Their time for fixing things is over.

I’ve been thinking about it longer than usual this week. Sandy Hook actually broke me – I still can’t comprehend that one. Hearing about these deaths closer to home just made it more relevant to me. These are people who were expecting tomorrow to come. Their idea of tomorrow anyway. They had hopes and dreams like the rest of us still do. And yet, they had to give those up because death doesn’t wait for us to get our acts together.

I usually choose not to talk about life, death, and spiritual matters on Facebook because I know some of you share my beliefs already and understand where I’m coming from, and some of you don’t and don’t want to hear it, and the topic is usually too deep for social media anyway. I get it. But in the fight to preserve everyone’s feelings, I would like permission for you all to respect mine and let me share what’s on my mind. If it gets under your skin, I’m sorry. But, believe it or not, I care about you guys, and I care about the decisions you make whether they affect you positively or negatively. Not to dismiss the billions that I’ll never know as unimportant – but wherever I can place a name and a face, that person becomes an identity to me, and it becomes hard to desensitize myself to his or her well-being. Sometimes I wish I could be cold to it because reality brings forth a crapload of heartbreak. But even if I try, the empathy eventually comes back. As a writer it’s my job to get into characters’ heads, and I confess that sometimes I take that job into my friendships because, quite honestly, I don’t know what any of you are thinking, but sometimes I want to know because I really don’t know how else to understand you or empathize effectively.

In talking about this, I do wish to be sensitive to what people think on these matters of life, death, and spirituality. Everyone faces the subject differently, and for some the dealing with it is a hotbed issue. I also know it’s a somber topic for many of you and this is not what you want to think about going into 2013. I understand. But I also want to understand.

When it comes to life, death, and spiritual things, I find it most difficult to understand how you’ve come to your ideologies because you’ve understood life and circumstances differently than I and approached them from angles that I have not. Of course, I can really only understand how I’ve come to mine, and, well, truthfully, there have been so many factors to bring me where I am today that I actually don’t understand how I’ve gotten here, either. I just know that I’m happy with the ideologies I’ve chosen. A choice that started at a young age, but has been fired and purified and tested throughout the years and has had plenty of backup that would take far too many pages to outline for what I hope is a short journal. My feeling is that you’re happy with your choice, too.

But is that enough to go on? Happiness? A feeling? How much weight does a limited perspective hold? Is there room for wisdom in how we come to where we are? How does that affect our thoughts on life?

Here’s the deal: I don’t care what we believe, don’t believe, if we’re Agnostic, Atheist, Christian, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Socialist, Capitalist, Democrat, Republican, Hollywood, if we support creationism, Darwinism, abortion rights, gay rights, free speech, Chick-fil-A, gun control, birth control, remote control, or fiscal cliffs, or whatever – we cannot deny that simple fact that our clocks have unspecified timers that will one day finally reach zero, and whatever social matters, economic standings, or most everything else that mattered to us in life will inevitably meet its end. At that point it’s too late to change things for the better.

That’s the one thing that all the above groups can agree on. Right?

When it comes to matters of life cycle, I know some of you believe in life after death, while others of you don’t. Some of you think about that. Some of you don’t. There’s not a night that goes by that I go to bed and wonder if I’ll wake up the next morning. Then I ask the question: am I ready if I don’t wake up? I’ve got so much left to write, a desire to start a family, not to mention my mom’s still alive and there needs to be at least one mother in this family who doesn’t have to watch a son die. Circumstantially speaking, I’m not the least bit ready. But a hundred years from now, who’s really going to care? Spiritually, presently, eternally, I’m already taken care of. A hundred years from now, that’s what will matter to me.

For those of you who don’t believe in life after death, what are you living for today? Help me to understand. I mean, we all have that desire for life, right? What do we have to look forward to if death is the end? Even Darwin, in his 200 years of wisdom, talks about the fight for survival. Why would he care if his efforts to survive didn’t matter in a hundred years? For those of you who do believe in life after death, what are you expecting to happen when that time comes? God, in His eternity of wisdom, fought for our humanity’s survival. Yet, so many want to debate that very issue, even fight wars over it. Maybe we can’t see how He’s helped us survive because we’ve spent so many millennia trying to forget, but if there is life after death, and if God’s the one who created it, then wouldn’t He care what we’re doing a hundred years from now? Wouldn’t He care about the survival of our souls?

All these questions are for perspective, of course. What I really want to know is why settle for death as final? Are we not born? We know that we came from the womb, but we don’t remember anything about it, do we? How can we be sure we were ever born if we’ve got no memory of it? Besides the multitudes of evidence, that is. When we’re in the womb, do we believe in life after womb? Some of us fail to believe that there’s life in the womb, and yet, here we are now, alive, forming beliefs about what happens in and out of the womb, forming beliefs about what happens in and out of this skin. Did we think during those first 40 weeks about the same things we do today? Did we have the right perspective of what life on earth would really be like when we already had so much else to think about, like feeding on the umbilical cord, having that weird disembodied yet pleasant voice singing to us, on whether or not we think this space is getting a little too cramped and how can we get more of it? The evidence that there was more to life than just the womb was always there, but we were too ignorant to care because we were plenty comfortable knowing what we already knew. (I’m assuming this, of course. I don’t remember the womb, either, and I suppose it’s possible that I was anticipating life after womb. I sure did leave mine in a hurry at any rate.) Isn’t it possible, then, that maybe if we know the difference between womb and earth is a flash of light and a quick passage out of one place and into another, and if the transition from earth to death is another flash of light (plenty of people who died and came back testify to something of this nature) and a quick passage out, that maybe we should assume that there’s still yet another phase of life beyond this one? Yes, in womb and on earth we have the same basic chemical makeup, where one is a bunch of cells forming, and the other is a bunch of cells decaying, but we do have multiple things that make us up – body, mind, soul, and spirit (physicality, thoughts, conscience, intuition). We’ve been told that soul and spirit move on to heaven or hell when the body and mind die. Do we have evidence in which that is not true?

Let me bring this back to my viewpoint. We can go back and forth all day about what actually happens if we choose to debate it. But why bother? If I believe Jesus saved me and gave me access to heaven, and if I’m wrong and Act II of life really is the final curtain, then what have I really lost by believing in His salvation? Answer me that. Especially when you consider that in a hundred years, this life will no longer matter to me. I don’t see why believing in someone who gives me eternal hope is a bad thing. Some people, of course – some of you even – don’t agree. And if that’s what you want, then so be it. But honestly, no matter how much I try to see things through your viewpoint, I still can’t figure out why you don’t have the same attitude. If there is an Act III, and if you’ve been making spiritual decisions that are ignorant of that, who do you expect to answer to if it turns out you’re the one who’s wrong? It won’t matter if I’m wrong because in the end I won’t know it. But it would matter a great deal to you if you’re wrong, and you’ll know it plenty well.

And here’s the kicker: It would matter a great deal to me, too, if you’re wrong.

Here’s a thought that haunts me frequently: I think back to two specific moments when two separate friends cried (with real tears) because something either went against them or didn’t go their way. It was hard to see that because I didn’t want to see them so upset, so broken. But we’ve all been there. We’ve all had those moments of breakdown. It hurts. We know how it feels to be so upset over something, so we know how to empathize. Eventually they’ll get over it, and these friends got over it. They were temporal problems that sucked, but they had an end. Now I think about how salvation is not a concern of at least one of those friends (maybe both). Suddenly it’s no longer an issue of sadness. Now I’m terrified. If it takes one sin to lose heaven, and if it takes one Jesus to gain it back, and if this one sin is more important to these friends than this one Jesus (again, I have trouble fathoming the logic – it’s like choosing a penny over a lifetime of freedom, but that’s not my decision to make), then that moment when the clock expires will become an extremely dark day. No amount of tears can quench the pain – mine or theirs. It keeps me awake at night thinking how much worse that eternal cry would be.

Makes me wonder why running straight to God isn’t a given for those who choose instead to do things (often badly) their own way.

To be fair, it isn’t necessarily your beliefs that has me up so late writing this. What you believe is between you and God (I do, however, think that there are many lies and one truth, so I say this carefully). It’s your Act III that has me losing sleep at night. One of two things will happen to me: I’ll either spend eternity in heaven, or I’ll vaporize into nothing. I don’t honestly believe in option #2, and nothing anyone can say will convince me of that end being true. It’s a hopeless viewpoint, life’s hard enough without that yoke around my neck, and I want no part of that, and anyway, I’ve experienced God enough to know that option #2 isn’t valid, so it’s not even a question for me. But it’s deeply important to me that if heaven’s real, that you also get there. I care about you and want to hang out with you a hundred years from now because that is one of the things today that will still matter to me then. So, if you still want to do things your own way, or believe in whatever you feel like believing, then that’s your business. But I hope that if you’re as moved about the frailty of this life as I am now, and if you have even the slightest question about an Act III life, even if it’s casual curiosity, then do the research. Don’t assume God is imaginary because humans don’t know how to properly show His grace and love, or because you’re not able to comprehend His ways in the way that you’d want to understand or because you can’t change Him to fit your ideals. Don’t forget: God is God and you are not. If you ask Him to reveal Himself to you in a way that you’d understand (sincerely, not spitefully), He will. He’s not going to ignore someone who’s trying to seek or connect with Him.

Please don’t pretend this is the journal of a Christian who is marking tallies on his wall. It’s not about that for me, and it’s not about that for anyone who takes life and soul seriously. This is about me ensuring that people I care about understand that life is inevitable and we don’t make our own rules when it comes to death and eternity. God is the author, and it’s His rules we play by. We don’t have to like it – it’s just the way it is. If you have a problem with it, take it up with Him, but He doesn’t make rules based on trends and fads, and He doesn’t change them because a few of us may not like how He does things. I’m sure He’d rather not sacrifice His only Son to pay for our rebellion, but that’s what He had to do to save us from our one to many sins and to give us that better life after this one (and that more fulfilled life during this one). I think we can agree by now that this Act II will reach its end. Why in the world would we disregard the grave importance of Act III when it can spring on us at any moment? Our ignorance and arrogance won’t hold up when that last breath fades and we’re standing before God with our thumbs twiddling by our sides wondering why things are suddenly awkward. Our excuses will no longer support us. We had our chance to fix things in our hearts, our minds, and our spirits while we were here. Instead we focused too much on our bodies and our politics. Sadly, neither body nor politics can add an inch to our Act III journeys, and our presidents and physical therapists can’t save us. The constant rebellion against wisdom just isn’t worth it.

That’s all I’m going to write here. If you want to talk about this personally, let me know. If you don’t, I won’t press the issue. I just want to make sure you each have a fair chance at making the most of this life and avoid blowing the next one, and I’d like to know that you guys will be a permanent part of my future and the futures of other people who care who are making their Act III preparations now. I know this can be an extremely sensitive subject, but I hope it’s been worth your while. Thanks for reading.

This journal is dedicated to my dad, who passed in late December 1995 but has never left my thoughts, my friends’ dad, who now shares my dad’s anniversary, a friend from my teen years, who passed the day before, the teachers and students of Sandy Hook Elementary, who passed in cold blood two weeks ago, the two friends of friends I don’t know but may still get the chance to meet one day, and the countless others who moved on from this life in 2012. You guys won’t have to debate the questions about God or Act III any longer.

Safe Guy Manifesto

Originally posted to Blogspot on:

February 17, 2012

For the ladies, and for any guy who’s just as confused about women as I am.

Two nights ago I lost a friendship that mattered to me. I don’t fully understand the reasons for this ending, nor, with the exception of a growing lack of response, did I sense the warning signs coming. But it had everything to do with me (a man) trying to maintain a friendship with a woman I cared about, and not realizing how uncomfortable my words were making her when my intentions were honorable. It’s not the first time I’ve lost a friendship for caring more than I probably should have (and showing it). But hopefully it’ll be the last. Below is a compiled list of realizations I’ve gained over the years about the opposite sex friend I’m expected to be, realizations that came to me after having made silly assumptions about the stability of certain friendships, including, but not exclusive to this current failure. I should note that not all friendships (including this) were ruined by breaking all of these rules, but each rule has been a source of trouble to someone at some point when I accidentally violated it, and I think it’s time that I make new assurances to my lady friends to keep them happy and give the guys something to think about for the future. After all, I know that the lady friends who matter most to me are the same ones who want safe guy friends (that’s been my experience at least). So, ladies, if I (or any other man you deem safe) start following these simple rules, then I (or we) should make you, the lady, content, and you won’t feel so compelled to walk away forever. So please accept this safe guy manifesto as your ticket to friends zone harmony:

1. I will no longer compliment your appearance. Maybe deep down I think you look beautiful today (and in general), and I want to tell you so. Maybe you’ve chosen to wear a shirt I really like, or a fragrance that really gets my attention. Perhaps your jeans even make you look thin. But you’ll never know, because I’ll never tell you. Heaven forbid you should think I’m coming on to you.

2. I will no longer tell you that you’re important to me. You probably are important to me, and I would love to tell you so because I think you deserve to know that. But doing so may make you feel uncomfortable, because that risks creating an emotional connection, and I have no desire to make you uncomfortable. So for all you know, you mean nothing to me.

3. I will not invite you to dinner. Maybe a lunch is okay. Lunches are safe and I know you want safe. Dinners are associated with dates and business deals, and you probably don’t want to believe you’re on either. Even if you’re hungry. I know I’m not an option for you, even if you think I’m a better guy than the ones you’d normally date. I won’t pretend that I am by inviting you to dinner. I know that dinner with me will weird you out.

4. If I call once, I will wait for you to respond. It may take you weeks or even months to realize you haven’t heard from me for awhile, and you may begin to wonder what happened to me. But that’s your cue to remember that I’m still waiting for your response. I will not call you or write you a second time until I’ve heard back from you first. I don’t want you to think I’m pushy or “needy” or have an unhealthy attachment to you. I hope that in knowing this, you will also know how rude I think it is to make someone wait for a response to a simple hello, and how much I’d rather call or write again just to wake you up. But I won’t because you’ll think I’m needy, and I know it wouldn’t have occurred to you that maybe I think you’ve forgotten that we’re friends, or that I think you’re becoming careless with me, and that if you don’t respond within a reasonable timeframe, then we’re not actually friends.

5. Anything you tell me as truth, I will believe you. You may one day show me that you never meant what you said, but I will give you the benefit of the doubt because I care enough about you to trust you. I will never question what you believe is true. But you’re welcome to doubt me if you’d like. I know that if I violate any of these rules, even by accident, I’ll have given you ammunition to distrust me.

6. I will forgive you of all of your mistakes. Even if you burn my house down on accident, it may hurt me severely, but I’ll forgive you. I believe in dealing with problems and resolving them properly. I know that giving up on you or your friendship for any reason is unfair to you, and I will not subject you to the worry that you’ve lost my friendship. I will also do my best to avoid making a mistake around you, because I know you’re not as forgiving, and I don’t want to give you an excuse to end our connection.

7. I will work extra hard to conform to your rules. I realize that I don’t have a voice in this relationship, so I will make sure that I don’t step on your toes by telling you what I might want. I realize that you won’t give my interests or values much consideration anyway. Doing so might cause you discomfort. And discomfort leads to your back swung in my direction. I don’t want that. (Oops, I just told you my want. Sorry. Won’t happen again.)

8. If I develop a warm interest in you at any point, I’ll be sure to keep it to myself. I know that’ll also make you run for the hills if you ever found out. On a related note, even if I decide I’d like to pursue you for romance because I see a wife-like quality in you that I don’t see in anyone else – and I’d like a wife someday because I’m not dead – I won’t act on that. I know that a good safe guy doesn’t try to improve his friendships or pursue his dreams with a decision so dangerous. I know that you don’t really want a good man to love you for who you are – you only say that you do – and you could never believe that the good guy who actually wants to give you his heart is the same man who should have yours. So I won’t even talk about romance with you. No need for me to be the guy who puts such a wicked thought in your sensitive head.

9. If for any reason a problem should arise, I’ll be sure to work with you as much as I can to fix it. It may take some time, and I may not know all the trouble areas right away, but I’ll work on them as you show me what’s bothering you. I know that my chances are limited, so I’ll do my best not to waste those three chances that you allot me before you decide that our friendship is unhealthy and that we should call it quits.

10. I will do my best to read your mind. I know that if I can’t figure out what you want when you yourself have no idea what you want, then I’ll eventually pay for it with your frustration and become discouraged because now you won’t call me back.

11. I will never express my discouragement over the things that bother me because you don’t want my negativity. If it’s not full of butterflies and rainbows, then you don’t want to hear about it, and I respect that. I know that a real friendship doesn’t include sharing the difficulties of life with each other. In fact, I’m pretty sure you’re already turned off by my honesty as you read this. You probably won’t have trouble unloading your troubles on me, though.

12. Despite the pain that will inevitably follow, I will be sure to protect your heart by lying down on that bed of nails and take my emotional scarring for you because I don’t want you to get scared by the slightest hint of appreciation and turn around and punch me through my heart with that bed of nails.

This list may be incomplete, but by following these twelve rules, I’m pretty sure I can offer you what you want. I realize that in doing so, I will have denied my own heart and sense of being, and perhaps violated my own sense of manhood, but I will do it anyway because it will make you happy, and because I value you and think you’re worth more than you give yourself credit for. Sure, in the end, most of the elements of this plan may leave me feeling inadequate, lonely, severely unhappy, and eventually resentful of you, but that’s okay because, while a good friendship is two-sided, a safe friendship is one-sided, and math teaches us that one side is better than none. So, from this day forward, as I enact this “safe guy manifesto,” you may now refer to me by my proper name:

“A lump.”

Is this adequate for you?

If for any reason the safe guy should depress you, though, and he will, then maybe instead of abusing him and kicking him to the curb when he doesn’t perfectly fit your rules all the time, you should lighten up, give him his room to breathe, and if his words or actions crosses your comfort zone, tell him so, tell him why, and give him the time he needs to correct his mistakes (and correct him again if he screws up again because he will; I promise you that). A good friend will work with you. But you have to work with him. Only kick him to the curb if he’s a sleaze bag or narcissist who doesn’t give a crap about you. Sadly, you seem to be slower at placing that kick, and I don’t really get that. Truthfully, I wish you’d stop acting so unreasonably because I, and other decent men like me, have got far more to offer you in friendship than you give me, or us, credit for. You’ve just got to lighten up and allow us to be men, and forgive us if we step on your toes, and inform us if we’re causing you trouble somehow, and, if you can stand it, show some appreciation once in awhile. I don’t think you realize what you’re missing here by limiting our hearts or running away so easily. We really are trying to consider and support your best interests. You just fail to see that because you’re too busy ignoring ours.

Nova’s Farewell

Originally posted to Blogspot on:

November 13, 2010

I’m at a loss this week. It actually started last Saturday when I attempted to find some lunch to satisfy my stale heart and discovered that two dine-in sub shops I occasionally visited were both gone (a Quizno’s and a Miami Subs). It culminated in the disappointment on Monday when I attempted to pick up a $40 ticket to see Former President George W. Bush speak at the Miami Book Fair (for tomorrow afternoon) and missed it because the writing lab was too busy the moment tickets went on sale, thus leaving a once-in-a-lifetime dream in the dust. Losses I would get over, certainly, but they still kinda sucked.

Well, last night, I was blindsided by an even greater loss when my cat Nova suddenly deteriorated from a lively, if not occasionally grouchy and unusual cat, to a weakened and unresponsive creature who not only couldn’t recognize her name, but failed to twitch whenever someone would touch her ear. She had gone from slightly injured last week, to somewhat sick this week, to delirious Thursday night, to dying the following evening. The speed at which she deteriorated was alarming, and even now I’m still in a daze from the reality that my cat is no more.

I should’ve known a few days ago that something wrong was happening with her when her usual desire to run outside or sleep on the couch faded. She had spent most of the week lying on the bed with a bandage over her ear to prevent her from scratching her sore. Much of the time she didn’t move, and there was one moment when I had to look closely to see if she had any life in her. Of course, she twitched at my presence, so I left her alone. I would often find myself doing that whenever I’d find her sleeping anywhere, for she was pretty old and seemed to have strange sense of comfort in bathroom halls, on top of towels, and so forth. Never knew if she was okay or not, but she’d always respond with the lift of her head, the twitching of her ears, and then a return back to sleep. It’s just the way it’s been for several years now. When mornings came, she was up and running, at her food bowl, and at the back door waiting to go sleep in the sunshine. That was her way. But in the last week, her usual cat energy was snuffed.

Thursday night was the night her future first showed its disturbing head. We (as in my family and I) were watching TV in the living room when she wandered out of the bedroom and had that air of dementia hovering over her that suggested she had no idea where she was. She didn’t respond to her name, and she didn’t walk to her usual hotspots. Even then the first question came up, “Is she looking for a place to die?” It was easily ignored because it just wasn’t possible. Our cats were fighters. They, as in she and Sniffy, the other old cat, survived three major hurricanes, lived outside during house fumigation among other things, and endured a number of photographs taken over the years. For her time to come so suddenly, it didn’t seem possible. But the signs were there. She was standing between the refrigerator and its door when I went to find a drink, and didn’t move when I tried to close it. She stood between the organ and the television, staring at the empty space between, and showed no sense of recognition. She had entered her own private nursing home for cats.

Friday morning, she fell off the bed, the first indicator that her muscle control had faded. She was on her back and couldn’t right herself. In the afternoon, she was taken outside to sleep on the patio under the clothesline (one of her favorite outdoor spots) and stayed there until after sundown. The last time I watched her move, she was trying to crawl under the patio chair. She tried to stand, took a couple of steps, and fell on her water dish. That was it. That was the last time. She stayed under that patio chair until her life faded down to a soft pulse. Around 9pm, when the light of her life was nearly burned out, we put her in her makeshift bed (pillow and a couple of towels in the top cover of her litter box), brought her inside, and let her spend her last hours on the same bed where she had spent the last week trying to recover. Sometime in the middle of the night, her pulse finally stopped. And that closed the book of her life on earth.

I don’t really know what I want to say here. I’m still dazed. My pet is dead. She’s been part of the family for about 10 years, and now we feel the hole in the heart she’s left behind. My sister is heartbroken. This morning, my mom cried for the first time in years that she had cried over any animal when she laid the rock down on Nova’s burial site. The other cats are visibly upset. Nami, the youngest of the three cats, spent much of the day in the window watching over Nova yesterday during the hospice period, while Sniffy patrolled the yard, keeping the birds away. Everyone is off-kilter.

In the end, though, everyone tried to give her a peaceful way out, and I think we accomplished that. She died her way, and not many animals can do that. Perhaps that’s the joy in this. She got to go out peacefully. For a cat that seemed so internally troubled, perhaps that was the best thing for her when her time finally came.

All we can do now is remember her:

Named after a space explosion,
You came into this world,
And though we did not know you then,
You exploded into our world.

Four months they had you caged,
But for four months you endured,
Four months you patiently waited for us,
Until your lonely life was cured.

You came home to a life of freedom,
I’m sure it was a sunny day,
You met your buddy Sniffy,
And life let you have things your way.

Ten years you ruled the house,
As the matriarch of cats,
And though kittens would come and go,
You kept your roost long last.

Sleeping on tables left you cautious,
Sleeping on couches kept you content,
Sleeping on beds made you queen,
Anywhere was a place well spent.

But as life eventually ends,
Your time finally came,
Last night the sun went down on you,
Today we’re still feeling the pain.

Your family will miss you, kitty,
Sniffy and Nami will the same,
A rock and a plant now cover your body,
But heaven holds your spirit’s frame,
Nova was your name.

Classic Photo of Nova

My Lament

March 23, 2014:

Note: The following is an excerpt from a letter to a friend that I had written on October 17, 2009. The main question she asked me had to do with formatting a manuscript. But this friend also asked how things were going with me after I had apparently told her I was dealing with something that had rocked me to the core. I had replied with the answer to the formatting question as technically as I needed to make it simple to follow, which I’m not posting here, but lost all dryness and broke into an impassioned response when it came time to address the matter of how I was doing.

This is probably the truest of my thoughts about the relational misses I’ve had in my life, since I had no desire to filter anything out or try to think through it logically when I wrote it. Looking back, I can see how my life’s journey really was quite unfair at times. This letter is extremely personal, and the breakdown of things leaves me quite vulnerable, but I’m posting it anyway because we men rarely talk about what we’re thinking, even if we’re thinking it anyway, and it’s unlikely I’ll ever be this raw again. Granted, I’m posting this four and a half years after I had written it, and the events to trigger this impassioned writing are long behind me now. But the circumstances that brought me to this state sometimes repeat themselves, so I thought it might be worthwhile to let others see how badly they affect me when they do.

Just for the record, I know that we, as men, are supposed to suppress our moments of anguish Ron Swanson style, but I also know how unhealthy that can get if we’re turning our hurts into violence, anger, or other unwanted outbursts, so I don’t care how the following might be perceived. It’s healthy. I probably felt better for writing it. I might’ve even believed it would put me on the path of healing. So, get over it. It’s fine.

Also, I’m withdrawing names and identifying words to protect the privacy of those that I refer to in my response. It’s no one else’s business who they are.

October 17, 2009:

I’m not sure the thing going on with me is fixable. Years of wounds came to a head this week and I’m tired of dealing with it. I feel like the more I deal with it, the more the problem wants to persist.

It is what it is. There’s nothing I or anyone can do but to accept what sucks. I’ve done all I could to keep encouraged throughout the disappointments, and I just don’t have it in me anymore.
It’s one of those gaping holes that God can fix if He wants, but just hasn’t really given me the help to fix, and I need it fixed, and there’s nothing else I can do about it but to wait for the repair. It hasn’t been fixed. The specific thing that brought all this out is irreversible. The broader thing is unattainable under the circumstances I’m given. And it’s a struggle to face the day anymore. I’ve had all I can stand, and yet, the solution is absent. And now my heart is broken. However, I’ll get through it because life likes to distract me.

Yes, I found out that someone I once loved and pursued, but never won over, got married recently. And in all those years, I had never been able to stop thinking about her. I buried it because I couldn’t do anything about it. But every time I see her face it all comes back up. And when I saw her wedding photo, it all came back up. And call me emo if you want, but I just don’t know how to deal with something like that. She wasn’t perfect, and probably not even the best girl I knew. But my heart was with her. And I don’t know how to get past something like this. I think there’s something wrong when my lament of this has already outlasted my lament over my dad’s death and my uncle’s death.

So, as you can see, there’s nothing anyone can do. I wasn’t able to win her over and I had to release her. And I feel gypped because I haven’t been able to love anyone the same way since. The one or two that I tried taking the chance on, they were surrogates for a dream that was already crushed. They were good for who they were, but they never carried the weight on my heart that she carried, and I don’t feel like there’s anyone out there who can get my mind off of her. I prayed for someone better to come along since 2002 when I got the initial rejection (after waiting four and a half years for the right time to speak up—who does that?). And each one that I thought might’ve been that answer turned around and ignored me or rejected me, too. And nowadays the only girls I meet are just that—girls. [Late teens, early twenties]. Big freakin’ whoop. All they ever do is talk about their boyfriends. It’s irritating. Everyone else is married or unsuitable in one way or another. And I feel like there’s no way out of this misery. All I can do is fall into a distraction because if I’m not busy, my mind goes right back to the heartbreak. What sucks most of all is that I want to be happy for her. She’s happier now than I think she’s ever been. She certainly seems that way judging by the last couple of e-mails I got. I want to be glad that she finally trusted someone enough to take that leap. But I feel like this is preventing me from having any real excitement for her good fortune. And I don’t know how to get past it. She deserves the joy. She put up with a lot from a lot of people over the years. She deserves her happiness, and I want to feel that for her. And I’m pissed that I can’t let go. And I’m pissed that I never found that adequate “replacement” since the day seven years ago when this reality was officially on course. I’m pissed that no replacement has come since then. No man my age can handle this, and I’m annoyed that I’m still expected to. No one can say I haven’t tried. I’ve lost friends—other people I cared about—because I tried. But what can I do when every woman I meet refuses to take a chance, or even to return a phone call? I can’t change anyone else’s mind or heart. I can only take care of myself. I can only make my own decisions, no one else’s. And if everyone I meet is on another page, that doesn’t really help. And then the girl I loved most marries someone else and I have no one around to help cushion that fall (or better yet, to invalidate it, because a better woman would’ve made this inconsequential and would’ve given my heart permission to celebrate the transition into a new way of life). I’m tired of doing everything alone. And I’m tired of every journey I take leading to nowhere.

In the end, it’s one of those things that most people will treat as a common part of life, as something that really doesn’t need to be lamented. I was never with her. We were always just friends. In the end, this is nothing more than something a teenager would stress over. But when I consider how I responded to her, versus everyone else, I feel like this is an unfair conclusion. I don’t lament the people who lose the hearts of those they never respected. I lament those who choose badly. Love isn’t lost if it isn’t actually love. I feel like I’ve suffered a loss on the scale of death. It feels exactly the same. Am I being dramatic? Or was she that important to me? Did seeing her face really quiet me that much?

I rarely wish I could turn back time and do something different. I tend to accept what is, as is, and adapt accordingly. This is the one time, however, that I wish I had the power to travel back to 1998 and start over, to go through all the hellish moments I suffered again if there was any chance at having a new outcome (or to at least relive the moments when I still had hope). The fact that this, too, is impossible kills me. I don’t know what else to do now. All my other prayers, physical, financial, everything seems to get answered without a beat. But this, the emotional needs, the relational needs—it’s as if none of this is important enough to warrant an answer. I’ve been praying for a way out of this dread in one form or another since I was in high school. I thought for sure it would come to pass before I’d have to suffer something like this. And yet, here I am, miserable, hopeless, my imagination for what better would even look like lacking, and I feel like no one gives a crap.

This isn’t something I like to share. One of the reasons I drove her away was because I’d express my sadness openly to her. But what I could never tell her was that her involvement with someone else was the cause of it. Now, I’m just sad. And I have to bury it because no one in this life knows how to handle other people’s heartbreaks. If I try, that’s it for me.

I’ve fallen into a no-win situation. And it was all because I took a chance.

I hate everything there is about this thing called singleness. It’s become a poison to me. And all anyone ever cares about is being a friend. Not a date, not an option. Not that I’ve found enough women to want to date, granted, but that in itself is a problem. I think I hate this town, too. And this society. This busy, busy, kill-the-human-heart society.

I used to look forward to each day. I had to walk through Ikea yesterday just to feel like a man with hope again. This is ridiculous. I may not be much when I’m miserable, but I’m full of great qualities when I’m not. And these girls today won’t pay attention to the days that I’m not. They only seem to look at what’s unrealistic—that I can only be a “safe” friend, and that I’m always “down.” I regret the letter I sent to the girl from [location redacted]. She genuinely freaked when she read it. Despite my encouragement, generosity, and whatnot, she never saw the possibility of interest coming. And when I made it clear, she didn’t want to know me anymore. This is what I’m given? These are my choices? Take no chance and maintain a stale friendship or take a chance and lose the friendship? This is what these women give me? Who the hell do they think I am? Some emotionless retard? That “nice guy”? The one who’s a male girlfriend? Such lack of consideration! No wonder I’m a mess.

I don’t know what it takes to get some respect for a change. I don’t know why the guy she married was able to win her over, and why I never had the chance. I don’t know why I was ever led to her when it was clear I’d fall in love but never win her over. And I don’t know why in almost twelve years God never put anyone more suitable in my life. My years are slipping by fast. For every day I’m alone, that’s one less day I have to spend with the one that maybe will finally supplant [that girl] from my heart. She can be out there, if she’s made right, if she’s positioned right. How can it be that in twelve years, such a woman hasn’t arrived? I’m not bad. I’m not a lost cause. Why am I treated as such?

Sorry, [friend], I didn’t think I’d go off on this tangent. I kinda forgot I was writing a response to your questions. But that’s what you get for asking.

So that’s what’s going on. If you think you have words of encouragement that would help, then feel free to try. I can guarantee, however, that this is entirely on God’s shoulders to provide, and nothing’s gonna change until He moves in my favor. I don’t think it’s free will when I’m not given an adequate choice in the matter. I suppose those frickin’ websites like match.com are an option, but your experience has proven that they’re not much of one. If God won’t provide someone suitable to me in my everyday life, how can I expect to find one in the cyber world? That’ll just open me up to worse decisions. The Internet seems to be a breeding pool of liars and fakers. Last thing I want to do is to go out with someone who has a liking to pot or some tattoo fetish (though, why would they ever reveal that in the questionnaire?). I’m not even in the dating game and I already hate it. And I hate how impossible it is to even enter it.

Never in my youth had I thought I’d become the crusty old man. I’m really disappointed with the choices people make, including my own.

I don’t know if this can be fixed. It took me years just to get past my negative nature. I feel like in one swoop it all came back. And all it would’ve taken to repel it is some courtesy, like returned phone calls, regardless of how many houses or states away a girl might live. I feel like hope is a dead weight. The girl I loved most is forever with someone else. What else is there left to say? I can’t bear it anymore.

So there you go.

—Jeremy

[Note from March 23, 2014: I’ve long since gotten over the event that triggered this response, and I’m legitimately happy for the person this was largely about—because I’m still occasionally in touch with her, I have been able to express this legitimate happiness and well-wishing to her in the years to follow. But, as earlier and later journals will testify, the core problem of being poorly matched has not gone away. I have since met better women, which wasn’t the case when I wrote this, but they’ve put me in the same category as these earlier ones, so nothing has changed. Well, I don’t make a big deal about it anymore, so that’s changed. However, I couldn’t say whether the experiences have made me stronger or more callous. There’s a point when you have to throw up your hands and say, “Whatever.” That’s basically where I am now. I’ve stopped looking. Trying to stop praying about it. Sometimes I get thrown into a situation I didn’t ask for and find myself dealing with the aftermath. But that’s the nature of life. A good woman can still hurt me. Whenever I meet one who is unattached, I wonder if God has a plan for us. It’s natural and inevitable. If all goes well, I’ll stop thinking that before it causes me to walk down a troubled path. Sometimes it’s not enough, though; sometimes I can still believe in her, foster a little hope for her, and sometimes she can still find a way to hurt me. But I’m convinced that none of them intend to, and none of them actually know when they do. I have a habit of keeping to myself in those moments so I don’t end up hurting them back. That’s probably unhealthy for all involved. I’m trying to get better about that.

So, I hope this has opened some eyes. At the risk of moving into another tangent, I really do hate being shunted to the side without getting a fair consideration. Don’t get me wrong; I like the friends I have, quite a bit. But friendships alone can’t start families, which I want, and friendships can’t survive when another party comes in and sabotages the time needed to maintain it. If you’re single, a good woman, and I don’t find you repulsive, then don’t assume that I’m disinterested. At least consider me before you friend zone me. If I have to keep dealing with heartbreak over and over, then I’m gonna stop taking on new friends, just to let you know. Trust me, I have enough. I can’t keep up with the friends I already have. I don’t need new ones. I want a companion. A partner. Please stop assuming I’m not good enough for that. Trust me, I am.

Maybe you think I’m not interested because I don’t officially ask you out on a date, so let me clarify something important here: I don’t put walls around my relationships. I prefer to start with friendship, if I’m being honest. It makes the growing process and the looking back at where we came from all the more exciting for me. But, if you’re single, a good woman, and you don’t repulse me, don’t assume our time together doesn’t count as future-building just because I don’t end the night with a kiss. If anything, I’m trying to make the point that you’re worth the journey toward romance, and I don’t have to see you as the latest lipstick flavor of the week. It’s called wisdom and forward-thinking. It’s called consideration for you. It gives me a better chance to actually love you. I’d like to think that’s an attractive quality. Jumping into a romance without knowing you well is a bit like drawing a gun on me and saying, “Love me, dangit!” How can I legitimately love you if I don’t even know you? That’s why, if you’re a good woman, I want your friendship first. I want to choose you for who you are, not for who I hope you might be. Quit punishing me for doing things smart. The only thing you’re accomplishing by putting a glass ceiling over my head is to ensure that you and I have a dying friendship. That does not incentivize me to give you my time. The last thing I want is to knowingly walk into a situation that will inevitably rip my heart out. So, please stop doing things backwards and please stop being unfair. Yes, you should put the glass ceiling over me if I repulse you or don’t line up with your goals in life or simply can’t work well with you. But I’m asking you, please don’t do it just because we’re friends. Awkwardness goes away, often quickly. It’s nothing more than a state of mind. Don’t damage my heart, my faith, and my sense of hope because you’re afraid of a passing awkwardness. It’s shallow and it makes you look bad. Be realistic here: Taking the glass ceiling away is the only way we can keep the friendship alive in time. I hope I don’t have to explain why. If you’re rejecting me because I didn’t ask you out on a romantic date the moment we met, then you clearly don’t understand me. I will ask you out, officially, when I know we’re good together and can work toward a future. Not before. I have no desire to commit to the wrong woman, even if she’s single, good, and beautiful. Don’t expect me to dive off a hundred-foot cliff into shallow, jagged rock-filled waters because you have to label your men “friends” or “lovers” and not simply see them as just “good men.” I’m not crazy.]

The Christmas Reaper

More than five years later, the subject matter behind this one still kinda haunts me.

Originally posted to MySpace on:

December 21, 2008:

Three weeks ago, I was told to start leaving my cat, Sniffy, inside the house at night. Raccoons had built a nest somewhere near the backyard Schefflera tree and they’ve been sleeping only during the day. Not that I’d consider that a problem, of course, because they’re just raccoons and don’t really bother anyone. But someone had told my mom that raccoons are overgrown rodents, and natural enemies of cats, and can kill cats. So my cat, Sniffy, the backyard prowler, has to stay in at night despite his whining.

I left him inside overnight maybe three times since.

He can take care of himself. He always does.

Two weeks ago, I went for a walk to clear my head. My creative life had hit one disappointment after another, and I just had to re-collect myself, so I put on my flip-flops and headed for the sidewalk. It was pushing eleven o’clock at night. It was also chilly. And I had no jacket. And my incentive to walk was replaced by a thirst (for an actual beverage, not a metaphor for anything else), and not strong enough to warrant continuing, though I continued anyway because I was still discouraged over creative problems. So I walked about a block or so, contemplated whether to keep walking; then I stopped. I saw something furry in the street.

It was small, lumpy, lying in a puddle of liquid or some kind of grease spot, and clearly road-kill. Cars were coming—it’s a busy street after all, not some quiet residential road—and probably destined to do what other vehicles had already done, which was to run it over some more. And since road-kill wasn’t my problem, I kept walking.

Until it moved.

I looked back. It was the size of a kitten. And lumpy. Not squished.

Traffic had drawn closer; though, being that it was eleven o’clock on a Sunday night, it wasn’t coming in volume, or particularly quickly, so I had time to investigate this moving object.

And it was definitely a kitten. And it was still alive.

I thought it was dying—maybe three inches from death—so I wasn’t sure it was worth going into the street for (a girl from high school had died over something similar years ago). But it still moved, and traffic had yet to run me over, so I took the chance and scooped the creature off the pavement, uncertain if it would even come up in one piece. And it was shaking.

Then I had to figure out what to do with it. It was, after all, eleven o’clock at night in a not-so-upscale neighborhood, and the closest neighbor it could’ve belonged to had a “Beware of Dog” sign on his front door.

I took it home.

My sister is something of a pet nurse (not officially; she’s just good at taking care of animals), so I told her she had a “project.” She immediately took the kitten and started cleaning it up when she noticed its mouth was bleeding. The kitten had bitten through its tongue.

We kept it overnight, gave it water (which it didn’t drink), and waited to see what would happen over the course of the next couple of days before deciding whether to take it to the shelter or chance contacting neighbors about it. Because I found it in the middle of the street at one hour to midnight, however, I decided that taking it to the neighbors—if it had in fact belonged to anyone at all—would’ve meant dooming it to another night spent underneath passing cars, so I decided that if it lived for the next couple of days, we’d take it to the shelter.

“How’s she doing?” I asked my mom the next day, when I was heading off to work.

“She’s dying. Or still in shock. But she hasn’t been drinking anything.”

I prayed, of course. I didn’t rescue a kitten from the street just to have it die on me. It was supposed to go to the shelter and bless some kid. Or best case scenario, Barack Obama would hear about the kitten, request to adopt it, and the kitten’s story would become a feature in Time magazine and tickle the world. Either way, it wasn’t supposed to die.

Well, it recovered, we didn’t take it to the shelter after all that, and now she—my sister called her Nami—thinks she owns the house.

Now I have a third cat.

My other cat, Nova, has this tendency to get nervous around new felines, regardless of their age. Nami is the third rescued kitten to come into this house since the summer of 2007, and the third one to put Nova’s whiskers in a bunch. To show her contempt of the situation, she has spent the last two weeks running outside at any chance she could get.

A couple of nights ago, I heard a really aggressive cat fight take place out back. I went out to break it up, but all participants had already scattered. With my socks now covered in grass, I went back inside.

The following evening, or last night if you’re keeping score, my family told me to start covering the furniture with blankets. Apparently, Nova was the one in that fight, and was still bleeding from it (a day later). She didn’t seem off-kilter initially, but then I took a closer look and realized just how bloody she had gotten.

Turned out, though, it was just her mouth that was bleeding, and all that red fur had to do with her cleaning and biting herself.

That was last night.

This morning, I heard a knock on my bedroom door. Well, not a knock—a pounding. I got up, opened the door, and saw my sister standing there with a somber look on her face.

“Really bad news,” she said.

Oh no, I thought. What happened to the cat now?

“Uncle Lee died this morning.”

* * *

It was just before 9:30 when she woke me. My alarm was about a minute from going off anyway, but 9:30…it wasn’t the first time that had happened. I just stood there, as anyone would from receiving such news first thing in the morning, and didn’t really know what to say. What was I supposed to do with that?

He was 44.

I didn’t know what to do with it, so I turned around and closed the bedroom door.

Everyone deals with this kind of thing eventually. These surprises, in essence, aren’t surprises at all but inevitabilities with undetermined clocks. Sooner or later the alarm goes off.

But then, after considering this moment, I have to wonder just how undetermined that clock can be. When you’re fast asleep, you have no idea the end of dreams is coming. Or you might, but you’re not aware of the time. Then it comes and snatches you away from your vision of purple monkeys dancing in a tree. And it’s over.

Always. It always ends.

Freaking alarm clock.

I suppose the news itself isn’t what bothered me, though. Well, it did, but I had known for several weeks that the possibility was coming (though I refused to believe it—he had to be the one man in my family to break the fifty barrier by more than two years)—just like I knew that when my head hit the pillow last night, my alarm clock would buzz soon enough. No, the thing that weirded me out most about this was the patterning. And the timing. The fact that maybe the clock had already been set.

First of all, Christmas is coming. In just four days. Four days. Never a good time to lose a family member. The holidays are brutal enough without that cherry on top.

But I suppose it’s not unusual that someone, somewhere, has to lose a family member so close to the holidays. The peer group for such an occasion, I imagine, is larger than I realize.

But as I said, there’s more to this than timing. There’s the patterning. The fact that my alarm clock goes off at roughly the same time every morning, regardless of my dream state.

Thirteen years ago, at just a few minutes before 9:30, my mom burst into my room and woke me. It was on December 29th, 1995. Four days after Christmas.

“The hospital called,” she said. I was still groggy. “It’s more serious than we thought. It wasn’t a heart problem. Dad had an aneurysm and he’s in a coma. They don’t think he’ll make it through the day.”

And they were right. He didn’t make it through the day. In less than twelve hours he was gone.

Four days after Christmas.

Christmas. Four days.

I suppose that peer group is a bit smaller now.

My uncle was beside him when that alarm clock finally buzzed thirteen years ago. I doubt that, as he saw his brother pass away before his eyes, however, he knew his own Christmas alarm clock was about to set.

Now, I’m not gonna pretend I understand any of this. It could just be weirdness through and through. But then I think of a New Year’s invitation I have this year and wonder how many different clocks are running. There’s a woman my mom had worked for back in the eighties and early nineties that I’m sure I haven’t seen since my dad’s funeral, which happened ten days after his death. This year, that same woman is throwing a New Year’s Eve party and we’re all invited. That’s ten days from now. I haven’t seen her since January 8, 1996, if memory serves me.

How many clocks are really running here?

That said, I’m now officially the oldest male in my family. And I’m only thirty-two. And I’m reeling. And while my biggest question in all of this still remains, “Why the hell am I sleeping in the same room after thirteen years—is the economy really that bad?” I still have to wonder, do I have a chance at breaking fifty? Only one man in four generations has done it, and he made it only to fifty-two. Will I be the first to see fifty-three? Sixty? Or will I have to hear that blasted alarm clock at a few minutes to 9:30 again?

This has nagged me since I was nineteen. And I’ve tried to make the most of my life since. And while I’m not particularly afraid of death, I am afraid of dying without having anything to show for my life. As of now, despite my bloody, sweaty, tear-filled efforts, I’ve yet to achieve my dreams or create a legacy. I’ve written a couple of novels, yes, but I have close to twenty ideas still on my plate, and I have to complete each one if I’m to feel like I’ve done my job. And none of them are published yet. And none of them have been made into a movie. And ten of them belong to the same story arc. I have to finish them. Sometime between now and the next twelve to twenty years. And then there’s the legacy. I’ve had zero luck with women. My whole life. Zero. And I’ve never gathered why. And while those same women I’ve had zero luck with have tried to convince me in subtle ways that I don’t need romance, relationships, or whatever, and that to expect it from anyone, especially them, is to lessen my need of God—easy way out for them, I suppose, though I never figured out why they even wanted the escape clause—they somehow conveniently forgot to understand that the whole point of seeking out marriage and intimacy, and those little dates that lead to marriage and intimacy, is to ensure that I can leave a legacy behind once my clock finally expires, which I’m certain now, is coming, and probably sooner than I’d like.

People used to ask me when regarding the affairs of my life (like the career, marriage, and all of that), “What’s the hurry? You have your whole life ahead of you.”

My answer, though never in so many words, has generally boiled down to this: “Isn’t it obvious?”

Now, after the events of today, I can add a secondary response that states, plainly: “You’re delusional if you really think that,” in case they still don’t get it.

Though, in fairness, they don’t ask the question much anymore. In fact, they don’t ask me much about anything. I suppose they think thirty-two is kinda late for one to be getting his life in motion. Even when he’s spent every day since high school trying to make life happen.

What’s the hurry?

In case it isn’t obvious, my head is still spinning.