Jun 9 2014

Falling Away

I never would have guessed he was forty-two; maybe fifty-two, or sixty-two, but certainly not any younger than that.

He passed me an old canteen that’d been roughly handled and beaten for what must have been decades, and told me to take a swig. I obliged and took a pull–and immediately regretted it. He smiled wide, a big, mostly toothless grin, and his laugh crawled forward from his lungs, the sound not unlike sandpaper scratching over an old log, along with the sound of his heaving exhalation that was rasp and nearly hoarse from years of cigarettes and weed.

“JESUS CHRIST.” I gasped, still trying to catch my breath from the liquid fire I’d just ingested.

“Moonshine.” He said as he winked and then nudged me with his elbow, looking for me to pass the deviled drink back to him. I did, having no interest in taking another swig. I already felt drunk from the modest amount I’d had.

The scenery flew by at a decent speed, and I surmised that we’d left Cleveland some distance behind us.

If you’ve never ridden on a train in the middle of the night, I wholeheartedly suggest you try it at least once. And I’m not talking about Amtrak or a passenger line–go find yourself an old freight train, rusted to within an inch of its life, one that runs the old rail road lines that have existed since before cars tamed the countryside. At the head of the train, you’ll find an old engine that’ll run on diesel and chug along at a decent speed if given enough open country to do so. Toward the middle of the train–never near the front, nor the back–crawl into a boxcar that has just a single door open wide, similarly rusted and abused, and have yourself a seat against one cold and unforgiving wall.

Once the train starts moving, pull your knees to your chest, and quietly watch as the sky and the stars and the ground and the trees and the grass all become one big stretch of unending silhouetted horizon. If you’re lucky and the moon is shining, you’ll see its light reflect upon the metal roofs of shacks that were built decades before; hidden lakes nobody knew were still there will seem like glassy mirrors pointed back up at the sky, and forgotten roads will be visible, winding aimlessly and carelessly through mountains and backwoods, having been abandoned and lost to time.

We sat in silence a while, as the burning sensation in my throat and stomach slowly subsided and was eventually gone.

“Where are you headed?” He asked.

I shook my head.

“Nowhere in particular, eh?” He smiled.

“Not really.”

He nodded, smiled a sort of sad smile, and took another swig of the engine-cleaning moonshine. He offered another sip.

“… Eh, what the hell.” I said, and took a drink. I coughed and hacked as I tried to keep the alcohol down. Jesus. It must have been 180 proof.

“Don’t worry, it gets better after a while.” He said.

“I should hope so. That stuff couldn’t taste any worse.”

He shook his head, “Life, kid.” And then he took another long drink.

“Where’re you from?” He asked.

“Oregon. You?”

He shrugged and then spread his arms out wide, gesturing toward the landscape passing by in front of us.

“Oh c’mon. You must have come from somewhere.” I said.

“Nah. Ran away from home when I was fourteen. Father used to beat me, and my mom died when I was a baby…”

“Ever see your old man after you ran away?” I asked.


“Ever want to go find him?”

“Nope. He’s probably dead. And if I ever found him, I’d make sure he was.” He laughed that same strained laugh, but it seemed like it was mostly there to hide behind.

“So–you’re not just homeless. You’re without a home.” I said.

He spread his arms wide again, as if he was taking in the landscape and the stars and the sky and everything around him.

“I’m pretty blessed.” He finally said.

We felt the train go up over a hill, and watched as an old home–built and abandoned before the start of the century–disappeared into a valley of trees.

“When are you headed back to Oregon?” He finally asked.

“Dunno. When I get bored or homesick, I guess.”

“That’s the nice thing about riding on trains.”

“What is?”

“They’re like old country roads. You never really know where they’ll take you, but they really only go two ways: closer to home…”

“…and farther away.”

Apr 9 2014


She wasn’t anything to look at, and I assumed that that was why she’d stopped to pick me up. It’s an unspoken but commonly held misconception that a hitchhiker will fuck for a ride, but I wasn’t in the habit or the mood, least of all with such an unattractive woman.

I spilled into the passenger seat out of the rain and thanked her for stopping.

Without replying, she threw the car in gear and pulled the old Buick into traffic at brusque and alarming speed. I grabbed a hold of the colloquially named “Oh Shit” handle on the ceiling and braced for the rest of the ride as she weaved in and out of traffic like an addict on an ether binge.

“Where you headed?” She asked in a Southern drawl so thick that it could strip paint.

I shrugged. I had no idea. I didn’t even know the name of the nearest town. I was just going, just trying to keep moving. The destination didn’t matter.

“My place then?” She jokingly asked, and then cackled like a witch from an old Disney movie filled with magic and fairy tale endings that never exist in real life. Her voice sounded as if she’d smoked two packs a day for three decades.

“I’ll just go as far as you’re willing to drive.” I was imagining her being splashed by rain water and melting down to the floor of the car in a puff of acrid smoke.

We sat in silence for a while, save for the taxed and over-revved engine being pushed far beyond its limits. Even if it hadn’t been built thirty years prior, it probably would have been right on the verge of flying apart.

The headlights from the oncoming cars flew past in a dizzying frenzy of bright halos and angry looking red tail lights glinting in the rear view mirror. I sighed from my duct tape swaddled and haphazardly patched passenger seat, unsure if I was prepared to fall asleep in the car of a woman who was simultaneously driving at ninety miles per hour and ready to have sex with a stranger plucked from the side of the road.

“I hate drivin’ alone.” She drawled, and then glanced over at me for long enough that I panicked about whether or not we were going to die in a fiery crash. It was then that I noticed her fresh black eye, bruises, and missing tooth, complete with an angry splash of blood coming from the corner of her mouth.

“I hear that a lot.” I said, and it was true. I’d been picked up hundreds of times, and nearly half were people saying that they wanted company or someone to talk to and keep them awake for the rest of their drive. It’s a strangely innate human characteristic and fear of being alone.

The car splashed through a puddle, flinging water twenty feet over the guardrail like a jet stream and landing across the windshield of a passing car on the other side of the highway.

“Were you in a fight?” I finally asked. I normally had a personal policy to never ask such a potentially volatile question of a driver, but I was tired and hungry and wet from the rain, and basically just didn’t give a shit. Plus, my curiosity was getting the better of me.

“Naw, just on the receiving end of one.” She said.

The ashtray in the car was full to the point of overflowing, and there were two different brands of cigarettes stubbed out carelessly in the gaping maw of the dash. I assumed one of those brands belonged to Mr. Southern Drawl.

The wind slithered in from outside and made a high pitched whistle as we sped down the highway. Traffic was lightening up, and we were mostly staying in one lane instead of dodging other vehicles and missing them by mere inches.

“Your boyfriend?” I finally asked, assuming that the mere mention or allusion to the man that had more than likely hit her would have me dropped at the side of the road like a bag of garbage.

There was a long silence again, my question hung in the air like the smell of the old stale cigarettes that permeated throughout the vehicle and littered the floor. She seemed nearly vacant, listless, like she was no longer in the car; instead, I imagined she was stuck in the depths of her own personal hell and couldn’t seem to clamor back out.

Finally, she spoke.

“When I was a little girl,” She said, “I had the worst crush on Elvis. Do you like Elvis?”

“A little before my time.” I said, still listening.

She took a deep breath, almost as if just thinking about someone not knowing Elvis’ work was painful to her.

“Darlin’, be sure to listen to some of his stuff. He was just… amazin’.”

“Okay. I’ll do that.”

She smiled at me and nodded her approval.

“When I was nineteen, I met a man that had these long black curls in his hair, and he used to slick them back in just such a way.” She said, motioning to the top of her head.

“He was so tall and handsome. It was like meeting the next best thing to Elvis. He was my Elvis. And I just married him as soon as I could, I thought he was such a find…” She trailed off, the car still flying down the road at an alarming speed.

I didn’t need to hear the rest of the story. I’d seen her vacant expression, the worn face, the sunken eyes, the laundry list of injuries she’d received that would go unpunished. I knew.

We rode the rest of the way in silence; me staring out the window, and her seemingly trapped beneath the ice and unable to come up for air in the seat beside mine.

When we got to the next town over about an hour later, she pulled into a truck stop parking lot at my request and I got out of her car. As I stood there, holding the car door, I felt that I needed to say something. Anything. I couldn’t let her drive off, back into the arms of her abuser, without saying something. Something.

“You know–” I began.

“It’s okay.” She said, looking at me defeated. She’d already heard it. She’d heard it a dozen times from a dozen people.

“You’re welcome for the ride. Take care of yourself.”

I knew how this was all going to play out. I’d seen the beatings and the fighting and separations and reconciliations and the never ending cycle that only ends with violence and death and battered children and broken homes.

It wasn’t fair.

I again opened my mouth to speak, and again she shushed me and asked me to close the car door; I reluctantly nodded and obliged, feeling defeated and hopeless.

She immediately sped out of the parking lot, the tires of her old car squealing wildly as it jumped back onto the highway, engine screaming in agony, tail lights blazing bright and red just like the hand marks splashed angrily across her face.

I fucking hate Elvis.

May 31 2011

The employers go marching in two by two, hurrah, hurrah

I have a tendency to monitor the IP addresses that hit this site. An employer that I’m extremely excited and hopeful to work for has visited this site shortly after two phone interviews I had with them. I’m scheduled to go visit their office and meet their team next Wednesday, and I hope that this blog hasn’t scared them off (Hi guys!).

When I was a teenager, I kept a journal. Nothing huge or dramatic, just a collection of my thoughts. I usually wrote in it once or twice a week–mostly as an outlet for my frustration. Going back now and reading through it, it seems like I was angry and depressed all the time–it was crazy!–but not true at all. Since I was only writing at the times that something or someone had bothered me, a person could easily have come to believe that my entire teenage existence was filled with angst and super-mega-depression.

I’m saying that because, well, this blog is filled with a lot of the same types of things. Angst. Sadness. Childhood stories. Teenage stories. Stories about hitchhiking. Mayhem. Craziness. Anarchy! MORE MAYHEM! But if I sat down and wrote about all the boring stuff I’d done, my life would come across as 99.9999999999999999% boring, and 00.0000000000000001% interesting (and yes, I counted the number of zeros on that–I’m a geek).

Anyway. Just an example of what a little bit of out of context information can do.

So if you do happen to be the employer and you’re reading this, I have fantastic references from my last two jobs. People love me. Seriously. When I worked at Regence, it was like the other employees followed me around like lost puppies. It was tragic when I was laid off. People were flinging themselves from rooftops, setting cars on fire, running through the hallways stunned in grief and sorrow–some were even throwing their silk ties into paper shredders in protest. And you know it’s serious when a neck tie becomes a casualty.

May 20 2011

And I am just like an acrobat tumbling down from the wire, and I’m fragile but happily broken for what I desire

I took their money, but it wasn’t about the food or the booze or the drugs; it wasn’t about being able to afford one more luxury or one more item to survive one more night.

I played my guitar while leaning against the cracked and brittle building–a wall of brown and brick and heat in the rippling sun. Guitar case open and eyes cast downward in a hundred mile stare, patrons wandered about uninterested in me–they didn’t see a man or a poet or a musician. They saw garbage–a pile of shit that deserved neither their respect or their pity. They didn’t hear the music that I’d crafted and carefully worked during the long days and miserly nights that I’d been travelling alone and in the weather–they heard only the songs of a beggar and a fool.

It didn’t matter that I wasn’t just helplessly sitting there with a sign, and it didn’t matter that I was trying to do something to stay alive–I was still just an otherwise inconsequential bump in the road.

Occasionally, a good Samaritan would throw a couple quarters or a dollar into my guitar case. I would raise my head, meet their gaze, and smile in the blazing sunlight beating down on my face. Sometimes they’d stay and listen a while, but most often not. Sometimes they would stay and chat after the song, but most often they didn’t care.

It wasn’t about the money.

It wasn’t about the drugs or the booze or the food that would keep me alive for another night.

All I wanted was to look someone in the eyes and have them take a long look back–maybe they’d see that I was still there, even if I was irretrievably lost.

Jul 15 2010

Junkyards and Stitches (Final)

It was near midnight when we finally decided we should go looking for a part for my friend’s car. I’m not sure I remember the thought process or reasoning behind our decision to leave at that time of the night. I also don’t know why there was such a sense of urgency in our trip. Perhaps the car had broken down and we were planning on drag racing the next day, or maybe we just knew we’d never be able to afford the parts and figured that it was as good a time as any.

Admittedly, none of the above implications or thoughts really make much sense; but we were teenagers, we were stoned, and we were convinced that we were invincible–or very near to it. As I write this, I’m lying in bed, typing away on my laptop, listening to music and watching the time round very near to midnight. This was the witching hour that Rob, Tim, and I always looked forward to. It was the time we could visit graveyards and run through downtown and cause all manner of mayhem and almost always succeed in not getting caught. Almost always, that is.

On this particular night, as I said, we were on a mission: we were searching for a part for Rob’s car. I don’t remember what. Probably something reasonably cheap that would have been easily attainable, had we spent less money on drugs and alcohol and partying. But this story isn’t about reconsidering our motives. This is a story about survival of the fittest and every man for himself.

There are a few rules that every person should know when they’re out and getting in trouble with their friends. As the old saying goes, “There is no honor among thieves.” It is also true for when it comes time to run for your life. If you fall, if you trip, if you stumble in any fashion, you should be prepared to be left behind. You should know that, as much as your friends would love to pick you back up and help you get away successfully, they’re much more concerned with covering their own ass.

We threw a blanket over the barbed wire fence, climbed over, and were very easily inside the fence of one of the major junkyards in the Willamette valley. I won’t tell you which one, but it was very well known for having just about anything you could possibly imagine and more. We weren’t very concerned about being caught, as it seemed like alarms were fairly rare in most junk yards, and there was no way that an owner or operator was going to be hanging around at such a late hour. Everyone knew of the supposed “junkyard dogs”, but it was usually an urban legend and, if not, we were convinced that they’d been outlawed.

The thing about being stoned is, you don’t really realize how much noise you’re making. You try to walk lightly and talk softly, but you’re really just thumping around and carrying on like a drunk walking home with a box of firecrackers and a lighter.

We ended up getting that part fairly quickly. I think we’d only been over the fence for maybe ten minutes, which was lucky since it was such an enormously huge yard. In the dark, it could have easily taken hours just to find what we were looking for. Sometimes it truly is better to be lucky than to be skilled or smart. The only problem is, luck tends to run out at the worst possible times, and when you least expect it.

As we were walking back to the portion of the fence where we’d left the blanket still draped over the barb wire, that’s when we heard it: breathing and shuffling. And it was coming toward us.

Glancing back, and even as stoned as I was, I knew what was coming toward us: it was a junkyard dog, and it was a big one. It was some kind of hybrid mix from hell. I want to say it was a doberman with pit or something similar. I just remember seeing the glint of its eyes at it made its initial bark and started running flat out. It covered the distance at a frightening speed.

“FUCKING RUN!” I screamed, and bolted. I didn’t wait for my friends to figure it out. Screw that. You know why? Waiting for them wasn’t going to improve their chances any. If anything, seeing me run was going to make them realize that much quicker that they needed to get moving.

Running is hard when you’re stoned. Walking is hard enough, as the world seems to tilt one way or the other, your equilibrium is thrown completely off, and it’s difficult to really tell which way you’re going. On top of that, it was dark, there was very little moon, and we were panicked and hadn’t paid a whole lot of attention on which was it was back to the portion of the fence.

I risked a glance back to see that Tim was just behind me, and Rob was a little ways behind Tim. Behind Rob was the dog, closing distance and only 20 or so yards away. I could hear it breathing and plodding methodically in our direction. Even though the chase lasted for maybe fifteen seconds, it was an eternity. It may as well have been a year long chase from start to finish.

I was the first to hit the fence. Just as I started climbing at about 185 miles per hour over the top, I heard a loud thumping sound and Tim yell, “Wait!”. He’d tripped about ten yards from the fence, just as Rob was almost over and about to join me.

Through the chainlink fence, we could see the dog was already on top of Tim and had a hold of him by the arm. It was growling and shaking him pretty hard. I couldn’t leave him there to be eaten by a damn junkyard dog, even if my sense of self-preservation was stuck in overdrive. But as I went to climb over the fence, I heard more shuffling in the dirt heading toward us. People. At least two of them, and they had flashlights.

I backed away from the fence, and Rob and I both screamed, “I’M SORRY!” and we ran.

Hey, he knew what he was getting in to, and by god, we weren’t going to wait around to get caught just like him. What can I say? I didn’t want to get into trouble, and I was reasonably sure that Tim wouldn’t rat us out even if we did leave him behind. Rob and I peeled out of there like there was no tomorrow. At least we didn’t do some inane bullshit and tell Tim we’d come back for him. He knew that wasn’t happening.

So what happened to Tim, you may ask. Well, he didn’t talk to Rob or me for a few weeks after that. He seemed bitter about our “callous attitude”. But hell, he would have done the same thing and we knew it. And he only needed a few stitches in his arm. And his leg. And I think one on the top of his head. But that was it. Nothing major, or so I thought. The owners of the junkyard didn’t even press charges since they figured he’d been tortured enough.

The first day he talked to me again, I told him he was just being a pansy and overly sensitive. So all in all, it took another week or so after that before he talked to me again. But he came around. He always did.

Jul 15 2010

Zero Hour (Final Version)

It was a routine red eye flight from Portland, Oregon to Chicago. I was tired; I’d just gotten back from a business trip the day before and it was little more than eight hours before I was called to fly out. Again. It seemed ridiculous to be taking off so soon, but I needed the money and didn’t have the resources to be picky about which contracts I could take.

My wife—we’re divorced now—had never had a job in all the time that we were married. As a result, it was nigh on impossible to make ends meet unless I worked like a dog and then—after I was exhausted–worked some more. I was too stubborn to admit that my life was spiraling out of control and that the marriage was essentially over.

I packed my bag for what was supposed to be only a three day contract, said goodbye (which, inevitably started a fight), and began my drive to Portland, which was about ninety minutes North. I spent most of the trip thinking about life and how unsatisfied I was with every aspect of it. My job was exhausting and taxing; I could just barely drag myself out of bed most mornings. My marriage was dead or at least, it was on its way out the door. There were so many things going wrong there that there wasn’t any way to bring things back. The final nail in the coffin came later, but that’s not what this story is about.

I found myself spacing out as I drove. The whine of the highway became a dull thrum in my ears. The lines of the freeway blended into an endless cascade of yellow, white, and the taillights of the cars that I passed.

As I neared the city limits, the lights greeted me along the horizon; a pinkish amber glow in the distance that belied the mischievous nature of the metropolis that laid below. I took I-205 North toward the airport and lost sight of Portland again. It was like seeing the city of Atlantis splayed in front of you, only to see it sinking back down beneath the waves of the cold ocean. I sighed as I continued on my well traveled route to the terminal.

Twenty minutes later and I was putting my car in long term parking and preparing to flyoff for yet another city to which I did not want to travel.

I thought about my friend, Rob, and how much I missed hanging out with him. Rob had been one of my closest friends during those awful years that my mother was dying of cancer. On many nights I used to call him up and tell him I was depressed or exhausted from whatever had happened that day and he would come over—no questions asked—and cheer me up. I missed that support. I missed my friends. I missed having a life outside of work. I missed being loved. I missed feeling alive inside.

I casually wondered the difference between this and dying. As I walked through the airport I could see the walking dead whom were just like me. You’ve seen them. They’re the people wandering the airport looking like they’re in a half-zombie state. They’re the chronic travelers. The people who have slowly lost their will to live through repeated jumps across states and oceans and lakes and borders, spending more and more time away from the people and homes that they love.

They’re the people you see standing in the bathroom of random airports shaving and trying to talk on their cell phone at the same time. They’re staring into their own eyes in the mirror, trying desperately to convince themselves that they shouldn’t try to slit their wrists with the razor that they are holding in the one hand. They’re convincing themselves to hold on for just a little while longer… and so was I.

I sat in the terminal and waited for my number to be called. Terminals are a lot like doctor’s offices; you find your gaze circling the room, wondering why each person is traveling to their chosen destination and why, for the love of God, are they on the same 1AM flight that you are on?

I heard the announcement that we were being boarded, so I stood up, grabbed my carry on bag, and wandered toward the front desk to have them take my boarding pass. I could tell that the plane was going to be packed–yet again–and I dreaded the thought of the person I was going to have to sit next to this time.

I always seemed to have the uncanny ability to get seated next to the obnoxious business man. You’ve probably met him at least once. He’s the guy that believes his life is more important and interesting than every other person; he’s the guy whom would tell you about the million dollar deals he was brokering, or the Jaguar he would be buying soon, or the model he was banging.

It usually took all of my self control to keep from strangling them with their own seat belt. Or maybe their tie. I hated listening to them so much that I’d finally learned a tactic to get them to shut up: I’d look at them for a moment, make eye contact, and just as their ego massaging monologue was about to spew forth in a torrent of self-satisfaction, I would put my headphones on and blast the music as loud as my ears could stand. Their look of hurt was priceless and, dare I say, it filled me with a morbid sense of satisfaction.

I finally boarded the plane and found my seat near to the window, slightly in front of the left wing. I unpacked my headphones, my MP3 player, and settled in for what would undoubtedly be a boring three or four hours.

Right on cue, my greatest fear became reality: a well dressed businessman sat next to me and gave me that shit-eating-grin that seemed to say “I’m about to tell you my life story”. I sighed. Before he could say anything, I put on my headphones. I figured if the flight attendant was right and the MP3 player could cause interference that would crash the plane, well, we were screwed anyway.

The plane began to accelerate down the runway just as I hit play. The opening notes to the song “Zero Hour” greeted me with a sense of nostalgia and passing comfort. Soon, it was blasting in my ears as we moved down the runway faster and faster, and with the telltale feeling of the wheels leaving the ground and the added feeling of gravity, I knew that we were in the air.

I laid my head back as we began our climb, hoping I might get some sleep before having to get an early start at the client location in Chicago. I’d been suffering from insomnia for quite some time and found relief in even the shortest naps; a zip tie to sanity, as it were.

I slowly drifted off to sleep. The music faded in my ears as I closed my eyes, but the last lyrics I heard were:

This plane feels small.
This is like a dream gone bad.

“Zero Hour” is a song about a plane crash. I’d always thought it was a fitting song to listen to whenever I flew. Not many people shared my enthusiasm, but I smiled as I fell asleep.

I’m not sure how much time passed before I woke up again and realized something was wrong. My music was still playing and “Zero Hour” was still on repeat. I spent the first few seconds of consciousness trying to regain my bearings. It was like that moment when you wake up from a dead sleep and realize that there had been a loud crash somewhere in your house. There’s that initial sense of unease and panic as you try to decide on what to do.

Please observe the seatbelt sign,
For the moment we are all still alive…

The lights flickered for a split second and a vibration that seemed to rattle my insides traversed the plane. The heavy rumbling sound of the engines slowly descended into a whine as if they were struggling to regain altitude; people began to raise their heads from their sleep and their books and started to look around.

I could feel the entire fuselage begin to shudder harder and shake. A rumbling sound came from the far side of the wing when, suddenly, I realized I felt weightless. I could feel my stomach rise into my throat and people began to yell and panic. The yelling turned into screams and crying as all the passengers realized this wasn’t just normal turbulence.

I feel the panic begin to rise, and
My eyes are a little to excited…

I glanced out the window and realized that I could see lightning outside the plane. The lights shut off again, coming back a little slower than before. I couldn’t see anything as I looked down through the window; my eyes were still trying to adjust after viewing the last few strikes of lightning outside. Soon I saw amber lights directly out my window, through tiny gaps in the clouds. I realized that I was looking straight down at the ground. The plane was sideways. And we were falling.

The gentleman next to me began to talk quickly, hysterically.

“Is that the ground? Is that lightning? Are we crashing? We’re crashing! We’re going to die! Jesus Christ, we’re crashing!” He said, rocking back and forth in his seat.

I could hear him over the music that was still playing in my ears. I turned the volume down for a moment as I tried to hear what else was happening inside the plane.

I’ve got a crucifix
I’ve got a bag of tricks
I feel like a wrecking ball
I feel it
I feel it…

I heard prayers in all sorts of religions, cursing in several languages, whimpering, crying, anger and, most surprising, there was laughter. There were people behind me that whom were laughing. They were hysterical. Laughing and then crying. Laughing again. The engines continued to struggle and it became a high pitch whine that seemed to be resonating in the center of my skull. I could feel it in my bones.

The flight attendant came over the intercom and announced that we were going to prepare for a crash and asked everyone to get into the brace position. Her voice was shaky and it was obvious that she was as frightened as all of the passengers that she was trying to calm. As she completed her pre-crash spiel, everyone stopped their praying and their crying and focused their attention on her every word. When she was done, nobody said a thing. There was a stunned silence. Everyone had placed their head between their legs and all that could be heard was a few scattered moments of crying. But everyone was suddenly calm. They had something to concentrate on: trying their best to survive.

I didn’t get in the brace position. I’d been passively yearning for death for quite some time, and this was finally my chance.

I turned the volume back up and sat there listening to my music, looking out the window and wondering if we were actually going to crash. I could still hear the lyrics over the noise and the rush of blood in my ears. I was excited. We were still losing altitude. I could still see lights on the ground, but they were swaying back and forth and back and forth. It was surreal and unbelievable. I’d spent the last several months miserable and now, now I was really going to die.

I like the sound of it
I like the feel of it
I like the deep, deep calm….

I was going to die.

I remember thinking, “Well, this is it. These are the last moments before your death.”

I found myself excited, disappointed, and in some ways, relieved. I was relieved because I was finally going to be liberated from my misery. I could finally just be done with this train wreck of a life and go on to being dust or dirt or worm food. It didn’t matter much to me.

And as the engines fail
I keep on feeling higher
I think my future looks bright
Now that it’s all on fire…

I’d been near death quite a few times, but I’d never had the time to have my entire life flash before me. This time it did and when it happened, I was upset at what I really saw. In every scene and every time my life took a wrong turn, every misery and every foul mood had been of my own decision or my own making. I realized I’d decided to be a passenger and not a driver in my own life. I’d allowed myself to be victimized and used and treated badly, and I’d never taken charge.

My heart was pounding out of my chest. Adrenaline was coursing through my veins. I felt alive. I felt free and fearless for the first time in years. I glanced around the plane, feeling detached from the entire scene. I saw the passengers crying and sobbing. They looked helpless and out of control. Each one was bent over in their seat, quietly waiting for the inevitable and had little or no hope of survival. Everything that could have been and everything that they could have been was about to be taken away.

In that moment, I realized I’d been living my entire life in very much the same way. I’d been living my life like a plane crash in progress.

On the way you blush with terror
Suddenly it all makes you feel so alive…

I laughed. I’d just had the epiphany of a lifetime. I was finally aware of my failed and bad choices and decisions. I felt alive. I felt invigorated. I wanted to go back and change everything I’d done wrong. I wanted to go on living and live life like there was no tomorrow.

And now I was going to die.

I didn’t want to die. I realized that that wasn’t what I had ever wanted. I wanted to live and I wanted to live more than I ever had before. Why did it take until now to realize all of this?

And then suddenly, as soon as it had started, it was all over. The plane had leveled out its descent, the engines changed from a high pitch whine back to a simple rumble, and the swaying and shaking stopped. The passengers raised their heads from the brace position. Quizzical and cautious glances were exchanged by everyone. Nobody knew what had happened, what was going to happen, or if we were safe.

Everyone was wondering the same thing, “Am I dead?”.

We weren’t. We were alive and we made it all the way to Chicago.

When I finally made it to my hotel room at near to 8AM, I felt like I had been watching myself from the outside. I felt high and disconnected and, at the same time, the most connected I’d ever felt in my entire life. I was in a life affirming mood, happy to be alive. I ordered room service: fries, a sundae, some cookies, and a tall glass of milk. I ate it all while watching Looney Toons on the TV, laughing like I hadn’t laughed in years.

I didn’t get any sleep that morning even though I had had a few hours free before heading out. As I left the hotel to start my day, I smiled and said good morning to everyone that I saw. They each seemed surprised, but everyone seemed just a little bit happier for the exchange. I worked that entire day in a great mood, not worrying and not concerned with the things I couldn’t change. It didn’t matter that my marriage was dissolved or that my life was seemingly falling apart.

If I wanted a different life, I had to change it. I couldn’t be the outside spectator to my own existence. I had to learn to direct my life the way I wanted. I couldn’t be the passenger, I had to be the driver; it only took a near plane crash for me to realize that.

A few months later, I was divorced, I was hitchhiking across country, I was free from everything that I had allowed to control my mood and my happiness, and more importantly, even though life got much much harder after that, it didn’t seem like such a big deal.

1.) Floater, Album: “Alter”, Song: “Zero Hour”.

May 3 2010

I’m standing on a pier, smiling from ear to ear, I shout but you don’t hear me at all…

Sunday morning I awoke to find a swelling sadness gnarling and mewling at the corner of my heart. I don’t know where it came from, but I know it has been there for a while now. It’s a beast. A beast that I wrestle and defeat and am defeated by. One that I bruise and batter and scream at and yet, it never seems to shy away for long. It’s stubbornness is comparable to my own, and like two exhausted boxers we pull from our respective corners and fight it out again and again and again; a stalemate with no referee.

The beast is always there. A cold reminder that I’ll never quite be normal or completely happy. I can hear him banging and burning against my brain, trying desperately to wiggle and squirm his way inside and all I can do is resist and hope that one day he’ll give up.

I can feel him. He feels like the frost laden mornings in October. The time of year when the cold hangs just a bit longer in the morning, and settles in just a little earlier in the evening. The beast is the feeling of impending winter, when the sun falls from the sky and we are left in darkness and snow and we are furthest from rescue. He finds me in the places that I go to hide and lick my wounds because he thinks that I welcome his company. He thinks that I need him. I don’t, but again and again, he comes to witness the breakdown.

Him and I are at an impasse. There will be no solution, but I still hope that some day I’ll find one. Sometimes, just sometimes, hope can be enough to see a person through winter.

Apr 13 2010

Death Defiance

One of my girlfriend’s favorite things to say to me—usually after I’ve related a story of death defiance—is, “Andrew, thank you for surviving long enough to meet me.”

As a kid, I spent a good portion of my time trying desperately to kill myself. Well, okay, not quite kill myself, but I was certainly working toward being maimed or paralyzed or something equally awful. Between my friends and my penchant for dare devil stunts, it was only a matter of time—and to this day, I’m quite surprised it never actually happened.

If you know where Tyler Hill is in Lebanon, you know it’s the steepest, tallest, longest hill that probably exists anywhere in the Willamette valley, with a lovely straight road that goes all the way to the top. That road, as you might imagine, has an extremely steep grade when you’re traveling down. How steep, you ask? It drops in elevation by eight hundred feet over the span of five thousand. If you were to use ODOT grade calculations, that would make this particular road an 18% grade.

My friend, Jack, and I were crazy enough to ride down the hill on our bikes; but it was so steep going up that we had to walk. We couldn’t keep our balance. It was seemingly impossible for our short and relatively weak eight year old legs.

We’d done this ride on several occasions, and we usually only made one or two runs in a day because of the distance from town and because, well, it was a long walk to the top! We were tired when we finally got to the bottom. Each ride was magnificent and scary and, incidentally, we were always traveling faster than the cars on the road when we reached the bottom. I estimate we were probably topping out at very near 35 miles per hour. This was serious business.

As if that wasn’t enough, I’d finally decided—in my dare devil eight year old routine—that riding down the hill wasn’t fun anymore. It was just too ordinary and run-of-the-mill. By now, a lot of other kids were following our lead, and I was getting tired of being copied and imitated. We needed something fresh and different.

That’s when I invented Skateboard Surfing. Or at least, I thought I’d invented it. I’d never seen it done before.

In true redneck fashion, on the way up to the hill that day, I bought an old extension cord from a garage sale for fifty cents. Once we arrived at the top of the hill, I tied it to the seat of Jack’s bicycle, put down my skateboard, wrapped the cord around my hands, and stepped on.

Jack had a peculiar look on his face. It was the first time I’d seen him reconsider a plan that I’d come up with. But, in tried and true death defiance, he shrugged and started pedaling down the road and he didn’t look back.

Now for my part, it was a fantastically fun ride for the first couple hundred feet. But I was gaining momentum at such a fast pace that, at some point about half way down the hill, I was going faster than Jack was on his bike! He glanced over at me in horror, but he didn’t dare pedal harder to try and keep up with me. That was suicide. Most kids held on to the brakes to keep from flying out of control on this road.

I was on a skateboard, I had no brake. In fact, I had no way of stopping at all. I could barely steer. I hunched down on the board and grabbed both sides with my hands. I was going so fast that I was afraid that I’d get bumped off and have a long sliding stop on the pavement. Since I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, it didn’t sound like an altogether pleasant experience.

I’d let go of the cord at this point. I obviously didn’t need to be towed. I needed to hold on for dear life. The wind was wooshing past my head like I had it stuck out the window of a moving car on the freeway. The board was wobbling back and forth, and I could feel the wheels trying desperately to stay on as they plodded down the road.

If I could just maintain my balance a little bit longer, I could get to the bottom of the hill and—well, it didn’t matter. Over a short rise in the road, there stood a goat. Horns. Hooves. Fur. Goatee. A goat. Staring at me as I was flying toward him. I tried to stop. I tried to turn. I leaned as far as I could, but I was going too fast, had too little distance to maneuver, and there was no turning back.

The goat fell toward one side. Then, contact. I hit the stupid goat, right there, in the middle of the road.

Not many people can say they’ve hit a goat at thirty miles per hour with their skateboard, but I can. If I would have lived in any other town besides Lebanon, I think seeing a goat in the middle of the road would have been unusual. But not in my town. Nope. A goat blocking traffic seems perfectly normal. Even with all my hard work to make it this far down the hill (alive), I guess there was just no accounting for a dang goat.

The skateboard hit his little feet, and my knee smacked into his side as he sort of rolled sideways onto the skateboard with me. I’m sure it looked pretty comical, since the goat was riding on the skateboard with me for a short distance before the whole mess capsized. The front side of the board touched down from the extra weight, skidded along the pavement, and goat and rider were flung sideways to the ground.

If you’ve never had road rash, I suggest—very highly, in fact—that you avoid it. I scraped the ground on my side for a good fifty feet along the road before coming to a stop in a patch of blackberry bushes. This just wasn’t my day.

I thought the goat was dead. Not because I’d hit him so hard—which I had—but because he wasn’t moving or doing anything. Just lying there on his side, legs straight out, and staring vacantly into space. Well, until he spontaneously jumped up, leaped across the road (almost hitting one of the other riders going down) and back to whatever field or home he came from. I’d hit a fainting goat. If he hadn’t of fainted right before I’d hit him, I almost certainly would have been hurt a lot worse than I was.

Taking stock of my injuries, I had road rash down the entire left side of my body. My jean shorts, my t-shirt, and my socks on that side all had holes in them. Blood was trickling and was visible wherever skin had been in contact with the ground.

I had a fair amount of thorns stuck in my arms, mainly because I was trying to keep anything from hitting my face and had had some success.

Nothing was broken from what I could tell, so I stood up and realized that I would have to walk all the way back home to get my wounds taken care of. It was at least two or three miles away, and I was already worse for the wear.

I met with Jack at the bottom of the hill. As I walked toward him, I could see the shock in his eyes from looking at the sorry state I was in. Blood was everywhere. Nothing serious, no major bleeders, but I was messed up. I had a fat lip from smashing my face against the goats forehead; between that and the scratches from the blackberry bush and the road rash, it looked like I’d been through a few boxing matches on the way to the bottom of the hill.

When I finally got home, my mom was waiting.  “I had a feeling you were going to get hurt today.” She said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because you took your skateboard with you and you had your usual mischievous grin.”

“Why didn’t you stop me?” I complained.

She shrugged, “You wouldn’t have learned anything then.”

She had a point. A very painful point. But it didn’t matter if I’d learned anything. I tried the stunt again a few weeks later after I’d built a “go-kart” out of wood and *two* of my skateboards. No goats that time, but I still ended up with another story. And more scars. And I still didn’t stop trying to make the trip down more fun and dangerous.

Some kids just never learn…

Nov 17 2009

This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper

Death comes for us all. One could say that, in many ways, it’s chasing us our entire lives; an ethereal reminder that our time is limited and that we need to appreciate and seize every moment, hold nothing back, and leave nothing in reserve. Absolutely nothing.

That’s an interesting consideration: Hold nothing back. How often do we refrain from saying something, either because of our perceived effect on someone else, or because we feel it’s unimportant? How often do we miss an opportunity because we think we can get around to it tomorrow or the next day? How many things does an average person put off and never actually get around to? What have you been putting off?

This morning I learned that my great-grandmother had died. It wasn’t entirely unexpected given her age and general health, but I was surprised at how deeply it affected me. I was shocked that I felt sad for someone I’d barely even known; someone who had spent her life manipulating and hurting so many people around her, someone who beat her children and was rude and boorish for so much of her life. I felt sad.I’m still sad.

The last time I saw her was a few years ago. She was an old woman in a wheelchair, barely able to hold her head up and, without a reminder, didn’t recognize me at first glance. And that’s when I realized that, despite the horrible stories I’d heard about my great-grandma, and despite the terrible things she had done to my grandmother and her siblings, it occurred to me that she’d never done a wrong to me.

She’d treated me with kindness (as much as she could fathom, as “hard” as her exterior was) every time I’d seen her, and even sitting in that wheelchair, having not seen me in years, she smiled and patted my knee as I sat next to her. We didn’t say much. There wasn’t much to say, really. It was a quiet and sullen meeting, only because we both knew it would probably be the last time we saw each other. And I’m okay with that.

The question that comes to me as I write this is simple, “Can a person be forgiven for their past, no matter how awful?” and I find myself hoping that the answer is “Yes”. For however awful we sometimes live our lives, I’d like to think that we can all be redeemed. I’d like to think that we can all move on from whatever we’ve done and become different people.

My great-grandmother may not have been a wonderful human being for most of her life. Perhaps she was the same person right up until the moment she died, but I know one thing: we all have the capacity to grow. Between that and seizing every moment, I’d say we have a lot of work to do in our lives; and I’d like to think I haven’t been thought an awful person for who I have been or who I’ve become.

We all have a right to redemption. So long great-grandma.

Here’s a link to her obituary.

Oct 27 2009

A reason to be sinful

I often wonder what kind of religion birds have developed to explain the strange behavior of humans, specifically when we’re driving our vehicles. The next time you’re heading on down the highway, pay attention to the ravens, crows, and other little birds that stay just to the side of the road as they peck and forage for their next meal.

You’ll notice that, without fail, most of them will jump just to the other side of the white line as a car is coming. They won’t go any further because, as far as they’re concerned, the white line is a sacred boundary that the evil cars are unable to cross.

It doesn’t even matter if a car is driving outside the white line and would hit a bird standing just on the other side of it. The birds seem to expect that they’ll be protected by that strip of paint, regardless if it’s true or not.

I’m curious if they have some sort of savior, a bird that once died for them so that they may have that white line. Maybe it’s big bird from Sesame street, or maybe they’ve attached some kind of cosmic significance to hawks and their ability to scope out the scurrying field mice out in the pasture. I don’t know. I don’t speak bird.

But anything that is sufficiently mystifying will be explained by magic by those that don’t have the capacity to understand anything that is beyond superstition. I would assume that birds don’t have an overwhelming intellect rolling around in their tiny little craniums, but they’ve at least figured out cause and effect. That’s a start.

Perhaps some day they will build huge nests in trees and every Monday (when traffic is the worst), they will gather together and squawk and sing praises to the white line in all of its mercy and understanding. And when one of the birds is killed, even after following the rules and jumping across the line toward its promised protection, the other birds will say that the white line works in mysterious ways, and that it has a plan for which bird must stay, and which must go.

Then there will be an entire sect of birds that believe in the yellow line, and not the white. They’ll be yellow separatists and will violently oppose the ones who claim that their white line belief is the one true belief. Each side believes their religion is right, and know that anyone who would believe in anything different is going to die. And they deserve it, of course, since they’re worshiping the wrong line.

Soon, radical birds will start dropping rocks on the nests of other birds. Their only difference will be which line they worship. Every similarity is thrown out the door, and every difference is simply summed up by which line they like to hide behind. Thousands, perhaps millions of eggs, children, will be carelessly murdered for a choice they never even had a chance to make.

All because one bird stood up and said, “Hey, I think I’ve figured this out.”