Refuged in Atlanta
-A memoir excerpt of Hurricane Katrina
Shock could be the correct description of my state of mind and the TV media as well as the internet media isn’t helping a bit. But my eyes stay glued to the images thrown before me and my ears keep sucking in the repetitive words like “9th Ward” “levees” “breaking” “flooding” “drowning” “rooftops” “rescue” “orphaned” “Category 5, no 4, could be a 3” “hurricane” and “death.”
Today is Wednesday the 31st of August. Two days ago Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans with all her might. She was on a mission to take down a city that stood out of harms way long enough. Her raging winds and rains tormented the old town striking every district; some worse than others. In 1967 Hurricane Betsy had done the same but Katrina wanted to make up for lost time. So many folks native to New Orleans believed their city would never be hit again. They watched every hurricane for the past 38 years brush by taking last minute turns demolishing the cities of neighboring states: Texas and Mississippi. But Katrina took no turns. No amount of Catholic or Voodoo prayers was going to stop Her.
I write of this as if I have not been affected. My typical emotional detachment takes over while but grieve for those who could not leave. And there were many. I left on Sunday morning around 3 AM; twelve hours before Mayor Nagin finally issued an evacuation alert. I was downtown in the CBD working as a production assistant on location for a feature film called The Last Time. We were on Baronne Street shooting a driving scene with Michael Keaton and Brendan Frasier chit chatting away at their script while pretending to be at the wheel. It was somewhat comical to watch the two of them roll by in a car set up on a trailer. We had been working since 6 AM and once the evacuation alert came over the radio and TV waves we wrapped up by 3:30.
My friend Autumn and I rode back together in a van to a parking lot a few miles away. We parted wishing each other well and assured each other to get out soon. I drove home and began packing and boarding up windows. I knew my little Nissan Sentra wasn’t going to hold much comfortably with my kitties so I made a short list of the most important items in my head and began rushing around my little apartment gathering and packing.
I packed a medium sized duffle bag with some clothes and toiletries and put aside along with my clarinet, guitar, computer and cat stuff like the litter box, brush, bowls and food. I didn’t have room in my car for all my PA equipment and Yamaha Motif keyboard so I decided to part with those babies hoping by wrapping them in blankets and tucking into corners they’d be safe. I wrapped my keyboard with my favorite green blanket and a large quilt then slid it under the bed. I wasn’t thinking about the possibility of the levees collapsing and flood waters rushing into the city. I was just thinking about strong winds and tree branches pushing through the windows.
After I secured most of my things like putting all loose items into drawers and closets I went into the kitchen and put away all the dishes and trinkets into the cabinets. I placed strips of duck-tape diagonally across all my windows. There were several pieces of 2x4’s about three feet in length that I had left over from building a shelf a few months back. I nailed up every board across each window. Again, all of this preparation was to protect my part of the house and my belongings from the hurricane force winds and the tornadoes that typically spinoff the eastern side of the storm. I didn’t anticipate flood waters coming into my second floor apartment.
So I sit here and feed my sadness with the horrid media frenzy and who can capture the best scoop. These field reporters are ridiculous pretending to have compassion when all they want is “the story.” It’s sick, watching a network profiting off the anguish and suffering of these poor people. If I start thinking too much again I will puke. My stomachs stays in knots while my mind wonders into someone’s attic where the body of a drowned elderly woman floats around after being trapped inside. I try to force happy thoughts into my head; squeezing my eyes shut and grinding my teeth attempting to keep out the images of animals that were left behind. Considering suffocation, which includes drowning no less, is my worst fear for others as well I’m doing everything in my power to stay in control.
Occasionally I think about my keyboard and my books and photo albums. Besides the photo albums, everything else is replaceable. Even most of my photos taken after 1998 are on my computer which is sitting next to me now. But even when my little place flashes into mind I’m not worried. I don’t care actually. I feel lucky. I feel blessed. My dried up tears are for those who had no where to go and no one to go to. I knew so many that didn’t own cars or didn’t own a reliable car to take out of the city. My upstairs neighbors are there. I couldn’t get them to leave. They are among so many other people in need of rescue.
Yesterday the water levels were said to be as deep as fifteen feet in some areas. 80% of New Orleans is flooded now. The levees have been breached by the storm surge. Most of the storm surge flowed via the Industrial Canal levee inundating the 9th Ward, the 17th Street Canal levee which separates Metairie and the Greater New Orleans areas, and the London Avenue Canal floodwall which runs through the 7th Ward, Gentilly and Lakefront areas. The London Avenue Canal is used for drainage; specifically for pumping rain water out of the city and into Lake Pontchartrain. Once this floodwall collapsed the pumping stations were flooded causing mechanical failures. You need the pumps to get rid of the water but you need to get rid of the water in order to use the pumps.
The water is rising. I’m looking at the satellite footage online and on TV in total disbelief. City Park is under water which means the house I live in in Mid City must be flooded as well. My place is on Dumaine Street one block south of City Park Avenue which runs along the south side of City Park. This entire area has been affected by the storm surge breach along the lakefront. My upstairs neighbors, Holly and Leno are most likely sitting on their front porch watching this surreal mess unfold before them and wondering how the hell they are going to get out. I’m sure by now the electricity is out so they are not aware of the extent of the devastation around them. I keep getting Holly’s voicemail when I call her cell so I’m assuming the battery is dead by now with no way to charge it.
The news is showing a helicopter flying over City Park and landing on top of the
New Orleans Art Museum to rescue people but the museum in is in the middle of the park and surrounded by water already. Is this rescue team actually expecting the mid city neighborhood refugees to wade through the water or even swim to the museum? That’s ludicrous!
Starting Over in Milwaukee
-a memoir about post Hurricane Katrina
It hasn’t hit me yet. I am more than 1,400 miles away from home and over 700 miles from extended family in Guntersville. Mentally I know this to be true but emotionally I am still rewound in the immediate post trials of Katrina. And physically I should be feeling cold if nothing else.
I’ve dealt with many traumatic events in my life and suffered through more occurrences of PTSD than most senior citizens, Mamma excluded of course. But this one takes the cake. What in the hell am I doing here? Why did I pick this place? I recall the hope of reconciliation with Mitch but we’ve been broke up for almost two years now and I haven’t seen him since. He doesn’t even know that I’m here. I don’t think have feelings for Mitch anymore though I haven’t developed them for anyone else. I visited Mitch in Waukesha back in 2002 a couple of times while we were dating so perhaps I moved here for some familiarity?
Two weeks have passed already and I still have no job. I haven’t heard from the media production company in Waukesha but I’m hoping for a response. I can’t remember if I told Mitch about the interview. I don’t talk to him much however we correspond through an occasional email and text. I came up a few weeks ago for the interview and went ahead and looked for a place to live. Rick came up with me. He knows the truth as to why I’m here…I think.
I’ve convinced myself that this job is mine and without ever hearing from the company for a second interview. I needed a legitimate reason for the move besides a lost love. Everyone in my family thinks I already got the job. Hell, I convinced myself I got the job so telling them otherwise would have felt like a lie. I will certainly regret this decision; karma always finds its way. I half expected the silence but will call the company tomorrow in an oblivious tone of voice and ask about my status. I think they said that they would call me back for a second interview if they were interested or else I wouldn’t hear from them. Unaware of my proximity, I will call and act like I never heard the comment about the second interview.
Maya is here. I don’t know her well but she seems friendly enough and willing to help me find a job. She too, thinks I came here for this so-called position at the production company. It seems I have her under the impression that the company is flaking out on an offer already made. Amy followed through and hooked me up with Maya. Upon my arrival Maya staked out some places for me to live. I was originally looking in Cudahy which is just south of Milwaukee but she pushed for a place closer to her here in the Bayview area. I am grateful because this place is me.
So far I really like my apartment except for the paper thin walls. My bathroom is next to the bathroom of the weird guy next door. I hear him often on the phone while he is sitting on the commode; his toilet flushing soon after. It’s quite disturbing at times especially while I am showering or taking a much needed relaxing bath. I keep hoping maybe he will move. But from what the landlord said he has been living there for nineteen years and won’t be going anywhere any time soon. He moved here from Minnesota and I admit that when he speaks it reminds me of the film Fargo. So far masturbating in the bathroom hasn’t been an option. I will take note of his comings and goings and learn his work schedule to make good use of my bathroom time while he is gone.
The house is on the corner of Wentworth and Estes only two blocks from the lake if you include the park as a block. I am on the bottom floor in the back portion of the house. The house was divided into three apartments a few decades ago. When I asked the landlord about the history of the house he said it had been a small natural food store and the woman that owned and operated the store lived upstairs. The front of the house is the smallest apartment where the Fargo guy lives. His is a one-bedroom and contains a small kitchen and den. The wall that divides us runs between his bedroom and bath and my living room and bath. I have a small linen closet between my living room and bathroom.
The living room is spacious enough for a couch, chair, bookshelf, TV and a few tables some of which I acquired from Maya’s parent’s basement. They gave me an armless comfy chair, a short handmade stool painted a metallic orange with orange pattered Indian silk sewn on top. They also gave me this cool simple wooden chair that has a lyre carved for the backing, an Art Deco two-tier side table and an old wooden hand crafted desk with one center drawer and three on each side. I bought a full size fold out sleeper sofa brand new for only $400 on clearance at JC Penney. I also bought an old inexpensive small dining table with two chairs from a 1950’s vintage store called Tip Top Atomic Shop. The owners are this hip married couple about my age and were very friendly; asking about my move. After mentioning Katrina they threw in a wooden triangular corner table which I am using as a TV stand. The DVD player fits perfectly on the second shelf.
I wasn’t looking for any handouts and realized I didn’t want to talk about my circumstances anymore while shopping anywhere else. I don’t want pity and I haven’t talked about the hurricane in regards to how it affected me but how it affected those who are not as fortunate to start over as I. I went back to patronize the Tip Top Atomic Shop a few days later and bought a coffee table made of a blonde cherry wood. It has a lacquer finish and the sides can fold down if extra space if needed. There is a small thin drawer in the middle of the table where I will keep my incense, smoking paraphernalia and eventually some green goodies if I can find any.
Just off from my living room is a bedroom. I have turned into an office/studio. There are two windows along the outside wall which looks onto the house next door. A lesbian couple and their young daughter live there and I’m looking forward to meeting them. Sounds like my kind of neighbors. I put some shelving up between the windows for my heavy texts and reference books. I need the floor space in the room. My computer, keyboard, guitar and anything else related to music is in that room. This is where I write. This room will become a first for many things. I can feel its energy anticipating the arrival of a new creative outlet. Even in my saddened state I can sense something good will come of my stay here no matter how indefinite that may be.
The living room leads into the kitchen and this is where the original woodwork of the house really shows off. The dark, thick woodwork is in the entire house framing every window and doorway. The baseboards and doors are also made with the same wood which I believe is a hard aged oak. However, the kitchen is where one can appreciate such fine craftsmanship even a tree hugger like me. All of the cabinets are made with this dark aged oak.
One set of the cabinets along the wall have wood framed glass doors but unfortunately some moron stuck wallpaper on the inside of the glass. It was probably the same moron who cleaned and painted the house upon my arrival. He put in a new light fixture in the bathroom and it hangs on the wall in an obvious slant to the right. That moron was Fargo guy. He and the landlord actually bragged about the work done inside after the old obese lady that was here before me. Fargo guy said she never bathed or cleaned the house. She never left the house and her daughter came by to check on her a few times a week. He also mentioned that while shoveling snow off the sidewalk along Estes Street he could plainly see her sitting in a ratty beat up recliner wearing only a slip and without undergarments. He said it was worse in the summer while the windows were open; the smell of her putrid flesh lingering along the sidewalk.
The upstairs neighbors’ front door is on the lake side off of Wentworth Avenue parallel to Fargo guy’s front door. The entrance to my section of the house is on Estes and leads into a foyer area that connects my apartment and a large screened in porch on the west side of the house. Inside the foyer there is also a back stairway which leads to the upstairs apartment back door. My front door leads into the kitchen and my bedroom is just off to the right on the south side same as the office and bathroom. There is a window along that side and a window on the back side which overlooks the porch.
The bedroom is a perfect size for my full size bed. Maya’s friend Chad gave me a four-drawer chest that was originally intended to go to Goodwill. I painted the chest and the night stand I found at a yard sale a metallic bronze. I can’t wait to decorate my bedroom and the rest of the place. I have so many colorful ideas for every room. I’m not sure which room yet will hold my treasures and memories of New Orleans but I’m leaning towards making my bedroom like a bordello.
The Bayview neighborhood appears quaint with Maya’s assurance that I live amongst a more artsy, freethinking and somewhat liberal area of Milwaukee. I got that when I found out about the family in the house next door. Maya said to not be surprised if I notice people keeping their shades and curtains open for all to see inside. I feel somewhat uncomfortable while walking or driving through the neighborhood with her. She embarrassingly stares into people’s homes snickering and making snide remarks about furniture and art displays like this is the thing to do while passing an open window. I look curiously then look away feeling my face blush when I see someone look back. I don’t want to look at all in fear of seeing what Fargo guy had seen too many times.
Bayview is the up and coming hip spot to live. I was told that only fifteen years ago it was referred to as ‘the south side’ rather ‘Bayview’ or as some spell it “Bay View’ and was considered a rough part of Milwaukee with a lot of dealers and hookers roaming the streets. Now the housing here is quite expensive compared to other parts of town with newer businesses opening up all the time. Old warehouses have been converted into apartment buildings. It reminds me of the Warehouse District in New Orleans with unusual colors used for painting the outside walls and small mom and pop shops like cafes, bars and boutiques on the bottom floors. I like it. It feels homey. It’s more of the familiarity I was looking for while deciding to move here.
Right now that familiarity is gone as I look around and everything is covered in snow and all the trees are completely bare. The white is beautiful and not something my eyes are accustomed to. While the snow is falling the silence is tranquil and I often find myself looking around for anything to make a noise. It is almost surreal to think that there could be a place on earth this peaceful (to me) when there are no birds chirping flirtatious songs or squirrels skipping trees. I think I’m beginning to realize, I’m not visiting; I live here.
Thus far my time here has been mostly leisure. But I have spent countless hours online looking through job listings and even thumbed through a few newspaper want ads. I didn’t get the job at the production company so my explanation to the family was that the company hired me as a PA and editing assistant and within a few weeks it went out of business. As fate would have it, the studio hasn’t had any commercials shoots for some time now from what I heard and will most likely close the doors soon. I’m trying to find PA work or any type of work possibly through the local TV network affiliates.
Chad works for the Milwaukee NBC affiliate as an engineer. I recently learned he was one of Maya’s students in a production class she teaches every semester at one of the local technical colleges. She actually is on faculty at two schools. She teaches a writing class of some kind at Marquette or UW of Milwaukee. I can’t remember which school I suppose because I don’t find her life very interesting. I may be a little envious of her education. She has her masters in screenplay writing and I want so badly to go to graduate school eventually. The only other thing that I envy in her life is that she owns her house but she told me her aunt made the down payment. The house is an up and down duplex rather the side by side I have lived in the past. Maya lives upstairs and she has a tenant below. His name is Jon and he has been a family friend since they were kids.
When I’m not home I’m at Maya’s for the most part. Maya only lives ten blocks south of me. She has two rabbits and a five year old rat named Lilya. Lilya is so smart and affectionate. She has reign of the house roaming and sleeping all over. I have to check the sofa before sitting down and pay close attention to the floor while walking. Maya has eclectic tastes in décor and I like it. It feels like Maya and not forced like some ordinary people will do in their homes in order to bring out an absent imagination.
Chad is always there too. Chad is a Taurus and hasn’t noticed Maya’s place like I have. Maya points this out often like she is trying to change him somehow to fit her needs and lifestyle. Chad is a simple man like Rick. The relationship between Maya and Chad is freaky in that it reminds me of Rick and how our relationship is similar but somehow more developed than theirs. Chad is definitely in love with Maya but Maya doesn’t have the same attraction to him. Rick and I have been friends for fifteen years now so he may have let go of any potential love by now, at least I hope.
I have been wondering about Maya and her love life. She has shared much but not that part. I don’t think she has ever had a boyfriend. I know she is not a virgin and there have been flings and friends with benefits but no long term relationships to my knowledge. Maya was an only child and quite spoiled by her hippie parents. Her mom actually breast fed her until she was three. Maya says it is unsettling that she can remember asking to latch on to her mother’s breast. Her reaction to this reminds me of my dad’s. He too can remember his mother’s breasts. I’m for breast feeding and all but not that long! That and Maya’s parents’ constant coddling has led her down a path of uncertainty of intimacy.
She is a Scorpio. Scorpios tend to refrain from intimacy until they find their ‘one’ true love. I’m starting to believe that doesn’t exist anyway. But I am reminded once in a while love is out there. Maya’s parents act like they are still young new lovers dancing and singing along at Woodstock. I admit it is refreshing to see a couple that’s been married as long as my parents still carrying the initial spark of love. It may be the pot and wine they both partake in everyday. I love hippies! I was born twenty years too late.
I got a call the other day from the NBC local studio where Chad works. Maya does some freelance editing and assistant directing occasionally. She put in a good word for me. I appreciate her help but the depression has become overwhelming and I’m not sure I’m ready to get back into the world yet especially in this city where I’m still a stranger. I need a job that’s for sure. I know the boredom is weighing me down and writing a couple of songs for guitar for the first time is simply not enough to lift my spirits.
My mood lightened some when I got to smoke a little with Maya’s parents on New Years Eve. We had a great time that night. Maya had a small party at her place. Her parents, aunt and some friends came over. Her downstairs neighbor friend Jon came up later but didn’t stay long. He seemed a little irritated by Maya and her interruptions. She likes to be the center of attention. Her moon sign or rising sign must be Leo. But Jon and I did get to talk some and exchange phone numbers while innocently flirting. He is so cute but so young. I’m not sure where it would go anyway. The melancholy has stripped my desire for intimacy and I don’t feel very sexy right now. I still haven’t lost the weight I gained while refuged in Atlanta. No, I’m not fat. I’m just obsessed with weighing 130 or less.
So it is 2006 already and I am desperately trying to let go of 2005. I can’t remember if I made any New Years resolutions but losing weight would be a good one. There is one good memory left of 2005. I finally got my bachelors degree. But the rest of 05 was a disaster, literally. Between the death of my Uncle Dick, the death of New Orleans and the near death of my family house under the curse of Wilma I think I could write a memoir on that alone. I would call it plainly and simply “The Death of 2005.” For now, I guess I will focus on finding a job and having this opportunity to really start over. Of all the moves I have made, this one feels like I went through a long tunnel rather a door to get here. There is no looking back.
Jon just left my place. We hung out for a little while after a long hike. Last week we spent a few hours talking in his place after a little birthday gathering for a friend at Maya’s. I had told him about some of my hikes including the thirty miles Rick and I covered in the panhandle of Florida on the Florida Trail. I’m guessing that’s what sparked his interest in showing off the great outdoors here. He asked me if I wanted to join him for a hike along Lake Michigan.
The gathering at Maya’s had plenty of vegetarian finger foods and wine. Jon wasn’t there and Maya kept reminding me of his neglect. I was beginning to wonder why Jon avoided Maya so much or maybe it was her need to be around people all the time that annoyed him. After everyone left Maya wanted to show me the rest of the house which included the downstairs. Jon is rarely home. If he isn’t working he is bicycling. He is a registered nurse and works the 4am to 2pm shift four days a week. After work, he comes home, changes into his cycling gear and rides 3-4 hours a day. Maya has keys to his place but respectfully won’t invade his privacy when he is gone.
That day he came home shortly after Maya’s friends left. We went downstairs, knocked on the door and got no answer. Maya pounded on the door hollering for him to answer. When he finally opened the door after a few minutes he said that he had his headphones on listening to music. He looked at me with a half smile. Maya asked if she could show me around while joking and poking fun at Jon’s habits. She was telling me something about why she chose to live upstairs even though the downstairs is larger but my mind was paying more attention to Jon. He seemed quite the recluse enjoying his time in silence, listening to music or playing his didgeridoo. I couldn’t believe he actually owned and played a didgeridoo. It was kind of sexy actually seeing a white boy with such a cultural assortment. He had various paintings and fabrics from Africa and Australia hanging on his walls as well as sculptures from Japan and China. Maya was still busy trying to talk about the construction of the house and I was absorbed in the unique décor of such a young man. Jon is only 26 and has already visited many countries in Asia and Africa.
I didn’t notice when Maya had finally quit rambling and snickering in her insecure fill-ins for silence. She quickly lost interest when Jon and I began talking about traveling which migrated toward his didgeridoo. Jon was amazed with my knowledge of the instrument and its origin. I gave him my background in music and eventually our conversation went down that path. To my surprise, Maya wasn’t annoyed by our inadvertent exclusion of her presence. Rather she was giddy about it. She acted like she was trying to hook Jon and me up. It felt weird since she is a year younger than me and treats Jon like a little brother. Not having any real siblings of her own I think she’s always treated Jon that way. She is overbearing and bossy and Jon seems indifferent toward their dynamic. Maya then made some excuse about needing to go back up to her place and headed to the door. I half-assed followed and she turned and told me to stay if I wanted with no argument from either Jon or me. We were already engaged in another conversation this time about his cycling and my love for running and hiking.
The hike with Jon was absolutely amazing. It revived me somehow; the occasional smell of someone’s chimney or outside bonfire reminded me of home. The smell didn’t make me homesick however because everything in sight was covered in snow. Much of the hike was on the edge of a cliff which runs along the lake in Cudahy heading towards South Milwaukee then Oak Creek. We began the hike on a path in Saint Francis which is a small town just south of the Bayview area. The farther south we went the more narrow the path became. The trees were covered in drifts of snow and ice crystals hung glistening like chandelier pieces. Jon warned me of falling ice and told me stories of passersby getting cut in half by the falling shards 3-4 feet in length. I kept looking up and avoided walking under the ice crystals. I tried to imagine how bright the red of blood would look in this massive thick carpet of snow but my mind would revert instead to the snowball stands in New Orleans. A New Orleans snowball is what everyone outside of New Orleans calls a snow cone or icy or flavored ice. The vast array of splendid colors of a snowball lightened me up from the bloody thoughts of ice shards.
The air was cold to breathe but still felt fresh and revitalizing. The woods were still and quiet. The only sounds were of mine or Jon’s boots snapping a twig or two. We didn’t speak much but I could hear him breathing behind me when I took the lead on the obvious parts of the trail. Everything was completely unfamiliar. I liked the newness and my senses absorbed it all. I wanted to kiss Jon and I think he wanted to kiss me too. I felt my face cold but smiling the entire time.
Jon led us down a part of a cliff less steep toward the lake. We made our way down slowly and walked along the shoreline for at least a couple of miles before heading west and eventually north closer to roadways. As we made our way back into Saint Francis along South Lake Drive Jon led me down a long wide driveway covered in a canopy of trees. It reminded me of the canopy oak trees over Old Bainbridge Road in Tallahassee. But the canopy here was made up of forty-nine maple trees and the branches were of ice and snow rather leaves. I could see an old castle type of structure in the distance. As we got closer Jon began describing the history and construction of what I finally realized was a beautiful seminary. The Saint Francis Seminary was founded in 1845 and is one of the original Roman Catholic seminaries in the US and the oldest in continuous existence. I was in aw to see such splendor despite my disregard for Christianity specifically the corporation of greed, sexism and overall conservatism called the Catholic Church. It was beautiful nevertheless and a wonderful way to wrap up our hike.
The hiked lasted over four hours covering a terrain of approximately fourteen miles. Jon and I walked back to where his car was parked and he drove me home. He came inside and we sat down in the living room exhausted from taking in so much cold air. I went online and checked the weather and found out we had hiked through some pretty windy conditions making the chill around ten degrees Fahrenheit. I then sat down on the floor and he looked at me with that half childlike smile as we sat in silence. The only sound was that of our lungs taking in the warm air deeply and with ease. I got up, sat on the couch next to him. He leaned over and kissed me.
The fantasy of Jon seems to be coming to a close and just when I was beginning to like him. We fooled around a few times while hanging out here or at his place. My coming and going to his place without stopping in to see Maya caused some friction. She has been acting odd toward me lately and saying some pretty means things about Jon. I think she’s jealous; not of me but of him. He has been getting my time instead of her but it hasn’t been much time at all. I’ve only seen him a half a dozen times. When I am with her all she talks about is how Jon has done this and that horrible thing, ignoring her phone calls and something else I can’t remember. She’s becoming a bitch about this whole damn thing and I am caught in the middle. I don’t even know what initially started her hostility toward him but I suspect this is her way of getting my time back. She is so demanding I’m not sure if I want to stay friends anymore whether or not Jon and I stay in touch. It’s beginning to look like Jon and I won’t be talking anymore; such a shame because despite personality and age difference we do have some things in common.
Jon has retreated into his shell. He is a Cancer and those crabs are either in or out. When they are in they literally clam up and detach emotionally. When they escape the shell a Cancer will wear their heart on their sleeve. I think Jon got hurt and went back to his protective isolated world of cycling, hiking and doing just about everything alone. This only gives Maya more ammunition. She keeps going on about how dysfunctional he is when I just want to throw it in her face how co-dependent she is! The last time I saw Jon was at my place. Maya drove by several times slowing down trying to look in through my living room windows. When I confronted her after Jon wrote her a letter about this she went ballistic; denying ever coming around my place when he was here. How the hell did she know when he was or wasn’t here?
I’m glad I didn’t’ have sex with Jon despite the fact it was he who didn’t want to have intercourse. However, we did everything else under the sun so what’s the difference? Less hormones forcing their way out of my glands and running through the veins of my brain deluding me into love: that’s the difference. And that makes it easier to let go especially since he lives below Maya. Jon hasn’t been responding to my calls or emails and I have sided with Maya in all of this; not that there are any sides I care to join. Maybe she was right about his dysfunction but I don’t want to hear anymore childhood stories and other ramblings about Jon. I have had enough of Maya’s mockery.
Last night while hanging out at Maya’s we noticed Jon’s headlights pull in. I had parked in the driveway this time instead of parking on the street. Maya had said Jon was already home and parked in the garage. I’m not sure if she was mistaken or had planned this all along. I wasn’t up for an argument but unfortunately the three of us were doomed to confront one another. I wanted to confront Jon alone.
Time elapsed when I finally realized I better go downstairs and ask Jon to let me out. He was parked directly behind me and I didn’t want to wait too late in case he went to bed. I went downstairs and knocked for a few minutes and there was no answer. He was either ignoring me or had his headphones on. It was useless to try to call but Maya called him from both her home and cell phone. I wasn’t interested in ever calling him again. I was long past the point of giving up on our friendship and wanted face to face or nothing at all.
Maya’s car was parked in the garage so the option of taking me home was out. We were both trapped so we went downstairs together. She knocked and hollered out for Jon to answer. After several minutes of my profanities and her awkward bellowing Maya decided to go around to his bedroom window and knock thinking he was already asleep. He heard us. He had to of heard us. This was a game for him and he still didn’t answer. I went back upstairs and waited and she returned enraged. She stormed past me heading to her office. She had something in her hand as she grabbed her keys and motioned for me to follow. We went back down and Maya’s face was beet red with sweat despite the cold. As we walked the steps she informed me that she was carrying his eviction notice. She had threatened to write it but I didn’t think she was actually going to follow through. She has known Jon since before he was born. Their parents are still neighbors and best friends from what I have gathered.
I waited in the corridor while Maya unlocked the door and went inside to find Jon. When she returned the letter was not in her hand and Jon was dragging his feet behind her with half opened eyes pretending to squint from the light. He wasn’t asleep. That much was obvious. I looked away and acted like I didn’t know him. He never said a word. He just slipped on some shoes in the corridor outside the entrance door, grabbed his keys which were hanging just inside then went outside to move his car. I said goodnight to Maya, got into my car, and backed out while he stood idling in the street. I left and much to my dismay without confrontation. I was hoping for some answers once we were briefly faced with one another. I thought maybe he parked behind me on purpose hoping for the same. Perhaps he did and flaked out or maybe he really was asleep. I suppose silence is the best and only answer I am ever going to get.
After six weeks I was approached and asked if I wanted to join the management team. Another doorway lay before me. This had been discussed already during the first week of my employment but I wasn’t sure if it was just talk or not. UPS needed female supervisors to fill the quota and I had experience and a degree. They also wanted me trained and ready for Peak season. This would give me at least five months of experience before Peak. It began Monday after Thanksgiving weekend and ended December 23rd. Peak is the busiest time of year for UPS and I assume that goes for all shipping companies.
The paperwork was finalized and I passed the psychological testing required. I had an interview with Larry, the sort manager; a simple formality to complete the process. Within two weeks I was promoted to part-time supervisor and began my training on the Green Belt. I didn’t know anything about the Load coming from the Unload but getting thrown to the wolves is the UPS standard of “training” management as it is most likely with all major corporations. At first it was stressful but it was a good learning experience forcing me to open my mind to new things. I gained some insight of the system and got the hang of running the Green Belt but as soon as management realized this I was moved to the White Belt: the sister belt of the Green. This was going to be an interesting debut into the world of operations management. The door was open and I walked through it.
The winter cold had eased shortly after I began my job at UPS. I had just returned from a weekend trip home for my sister’s bachelorette outing and wedding party (instead of a bridal shower). I felt inspired. I had a job and the trip home with warm weather invigorated my senses. It was good to see my family and I felt revitalized. I wanted to write my first short story or short memoir. I began with the latter. I wrote a short memoir called A Resounding No. It is about my childhood; growing up in rural Loxahatchee as opposed to the city of West Palm Beach. It is about the lessons learned when not following parents’ directions.
I enjoyed the taste of a more extensive writing than poetry and songs. After I completed the short memoir I wrote my first short story called The Orange Car. The story is about a woman in her mid fifties living in New Orleans post Katrina. It begins eight months after the hurricane where the woman is trying to pick up the pieces of her disastrous life. The story reflects on her past and how it led up to her current circumstances as a New Orleans native. I foresee The Orange Car becoming a full length novel someday.
Spring Has Come and Melancholy are two poems written while experiencing my first spring in the midwest. Only when you have endured a northern winter, can you honestly say that the season of spring actually exists. It is quite remarkable to see the bare trees slowly come to life again. The evergreens get thicker and greener but the oaks and maples show off their tiny sprouts while the birds return with music. The Canadian geese fly overhead honking in triangular formation before landing in the cool waters of Lake Michigan.
The days are short and the skies are gloomy in the winter. But dormancy is a necessity in order to bring new growth of green and colorful blossoms every year. The beauty of a Midwest spring was the birth of a creative outlet in writing. Once again, the month of April brought me something extraordinary; a new way for me to express myself.
I’ve been putting off writing the story of Chris for too long now. I’m sure I’ll never forget this unique love of past lovers. He is the last crush I’ve had and I don’t think I’ll have anymore for a while. Ending my line of lovers lost with Chris was certainly not the ‘going out with a bang’ I expected. But I’m glad it happened.
Chris’s companionship was the first to inspire poetry since Mitch. The relationship with Brett, if one could even call it that, provoked two poems rather inspired. 13 Days Late and 16 Days Late But… simply outlined the mistake of unprotected lust not to mention Brett was a lousy lover. He had to be high on some ADD medication called Adderall to get it up. I wasn’t physically attracted to his out of shape short and wide Taurus stature. What was I thinking? Chris however, was of average height with a well defined body. He was quite fit and very strong. UPS did that for most of us.
The relationship with Chris began strangely. Simply put, I hated him. I didn’t realize then that he was a Cancer. His sense of humor was dry and he rarely smiled. He was always criticizing or trying to give me advice on how to run my Belt. After I was transferred to the White Belt I saw him more. The White Belt had some experienced head-strong employees and Chris knew this would be a challenge for a fairly new supervisor. Chris assisted the manager of the north side. He primarily floated around between the Green, White and Yellow Belts.
I’d been running the White Belt a little over two months before I realized that Chris was genuinely trying to help. He actually cared. It was more than a job to him but unlike me he didn’t express his compassion for employees and co-workers. It was the end of October when my frustrations came to a head. I had prevented the tears from flowing way too long and everything contained blew out of me in anger like a volcanic eruption. Chris was on my Belt helping the top puller. I was on the grating at door 13 breaking jams for the load. I had my best two loaders in the trailer. They were working as fast as their scanners would allow building insecure walls and throwing packages. Their aggravation fueled mine while a shouting match continued between them and the top puller. Chris usually stayed quiet even when he spoke in a loud and high adrenaline environment. I never heard him shout but when he came down from the top pull he decided to join in the charade of belt problems. Everyone was blaming each other. I tried to focus on breaking jams and kept quiet. My own voice only fueled my anger more.
I faintly heard a supervisor under the grating below me delegating tasks to employees sent over from other areas to help. When I looked down I realized it was Chris and he was looking up at me. His voice was the last I wanted to hear giving advice. At first I ignored him. Advice from anyone was useless at that point. Chris was actually raising his voice at me. The rage was bubbling up towards the top. Suddenly my voice was all anyone could hear with profanity flying in all directions. I remember hearing “Don’t raise your voice at me, Asshole” “Shut the fuck up” and “Get the fuck off my belt.”
I was so angry I didn’t realize it was my voice I heard. I felt lost in rage like I was in someone else’s nightmare. Chris tried arguing with me but to no avail. His passive tone wasn’t going to overpower mine. The North Manager (Asshole #2) came over to jump in but took one glance at me then turned away knowing I didn’t care if I lost my job over insubordination. He turned his attention toward others in need of help. Chris continued harping and eventually I said fuck the jam, turned off the Extendo and practically jumped off the grated skipping most of the rungs on the ladder. He made a sarcastic comment regarding safety at the exact moment I got in his face and told him to get off my belt one last time. With this he looked away and then his feet followed.
The belt continued to back up and the shut-offs became more frequent. Packages were coming from the Primary piled dangerously high. The sorters stacked their belts during shut-offs. This caused massive jams damaging packages throughout the maze once the belts resumed. As a result pullers had to shut off the belt again to break jams and the vicious cycle would continue throughout the sort. Worst yet, the sorters doubled their misorts sending out packages to the wrong belts. Both of my pullers couldn’t keep up with the misorts and either had to shut off the belt or send potential misloads. With an overwhelming number of boxes falling off the Extendos onto trailer floors, the loaders couldn’t keep up so the chance of misloading a package increased. My top puller was busy trying to fix a jam.
Asshole #2 came out of door 20 after breaking jams adding his negative comments to an already hostile atmosphere. Our belt was shut off for almost a minute and he demanded to know what was happening. He hollered out things like “What the fuck is going on?” “Why is this belt still off?” “Raelea, you must be stupid to allow this to happen!” “How the hell are you gonna get through Peak?” I lashed back telling him not to raise his voice at me and to get off my belt. I had told two assholes to leave and I kept thinking ‘third time’s a charm’ ‘Who’s next?’ ‘Who wants a piece of me?’
Break couldn’t have come at a better time. But it felt like the fastest ten minutes ever. Nobody wanted to get up when the buzzer sounded. Looking at the overloaded belt, I took in a deep breath then said “Lets get this shit over with…we can do this!” I tried to create some positive vibes. Everyone was exhausted and pissed off and needed to hear something optimistic during this night of hell.
The Primary was trying desperately to go down and packages were coming in piles again. We were only a few minutes into work after break when the White was shut off. I was standing at my hubcom updating the percentages of the trailers. I didn’t notice the belt was shut off. I had welcomed the calm after the heated rush ignoring the reason for silence. Chris had just walked in from the break area when the manager of the Primary (Asshole #3) marched around the corner like a drill sergeant barking out orders. I turned around quickly to acknowledge him in disbelief. Like Asshole #2, he demanded to know why the belt was still off. However, unlike Asshole#2, he liked confrontation and continued marching toward me asking rhetorical questions. I couldn’t argue back. I couldn’t even raise my voice. I had no energy left to break jams much less get into it with Asshole #3.
Chris came over and before he could speak I told him to mind his own business. Asshole #3 kept trying to get a rise out me but I directed my anger toward Chris instead. I should’ve kept my mouth shut because much to my ignorance he came over to defend me. He was attempting to explain the situation to Asshole #3 and get him off my back. I finally spoke up after Asshole #3 accused me of not doing my job. He said that I wasn’t doing “my fucking job and holding my employees accountable.” I was sick of that word accountable and decided what’s sauce for the goose…”Hey Asshole #3, why don’t you hold your employees in the Primary accountable! If your sorters were doing their fucking jobs then my pullers would be able to do theirs!”
Asshole #3 came back at me but I walked away and headed toward door 19 to break jams. I heard him yell something about ignoring his commands but kept walking. When I looked back I saw Chris trying to get his attention to clarify the mess we were in.
The night finally came to a close after running over an hour. I made a formal complaint about Asshole #2 and #3 for name calling and belittling me in front of my employees. I was exhausted and felt humiliated especially for making the complaint. Larry wanted a quick resolution and thought face to face verbal apologies would suffice. I agreed wanting it all behind me not to mention I didn’t need management thinking I was some weak, emotional, incompetent woman who shouldn’t have been promoted. My chest tightened anticipating a run-in with Chris while I walked down the steps from the pre-sort office.
My employees were sorting through packages all over the floor and loading the last bit of bulk into the trailers while I stood at my hub computer desperately trying not to fall apart. I was pretending to do paperwork and focused on taking deep breaths. I kept choking back tears so not to expose ‘weakness’ in front of my employees. I usually helped them with bulk despite union rules; instead I stuttered a few words of appreciation for their hard work. No matter how shitty our numbers were going to be my employees hung in there.
My last employee grabbed his backpack and water bottle off the bottom pull and headed toward me to clock out at the hub computer. He said goodnight as he walked away. I felt the rush beginning. As soon as he was out of sight my chest began to heave. I thought I was alone when the tears began to fall. I tried to finish up my paperwork wiping the tears as quickly as they fell but to no avail. I couldn’t see the screen on my hub computer. I slammed down my pen and clipboard and sat up on the grating. I put my face in my hands to silence my cries and didn’t notice Chris was standing in front of me.
Chris’ voice startled me. When I looked up he asked if I was okay. I didn’t want any consoling from him. I told him I didn’t need to be ganged up on. I looked away and he walked into view to explain why he rushed over during the confrontation with Asshole #3. He told me to listen and I looked up at his face. For the first time I saw Chris and heard the sincerity in his voice. Was I reading him wrong all this time? Chris was expressing concern and so I listened.
We walked outside and had a cigarette. I felt the weight of my job without guidance or support beginning to lift. Someone had my back and of all people it was Chris. He wanted to teach me how to emotionally handle this job. He assured me I had the mental tools to run an operation; most importantly communication. That was one skill I possessed unlike my male co-workers and bosses. My pride fell away and welcomed his advice and compliments. Peak was only a month away so my new friend couldn’t have come at a better time. Now I knew the Cancer tenderness of Chris; the soft crab peaked out of his shell and softened me as well. That moment of recognition was the beginning of my attraction to Chris.
The last two weeks of Peak put a strain on me mentally and physically but I got through it by having Chris around during breaks. Lori was a mutual friend. She was also encouraging in not letting the job get to me. The three of us sat with each other during the pre-sort meetings. Lori and Chris had an interesting dynamic. She was only a couple of years older than me and Chris was only 22. Their friendship was more like a big sister/ little brother relationship. This was all too familiar and reminded me of Maya and Jon. Here I was again in a strange threesome of an older Scorpio woman befriending a young Cancer man. Except this one was a healthier relationship. Lori wasn’t as bossy and controlling as Maya. She was also more reliable.
I had celebrated Christmas at home with my family. It was a quick trip of only four days since I had to work between the holidays and didn’t want to be away from my kitties too long. Lori graciously came by my place twice to take care of my cats while I was gone. I felt at ease during my visit knowing my kitties were okay this time. Chris was more reliable as well and much more social than Jon. But no matter how much I fantasized about Chris I didn’t foresee any intimacy with him as had with Jon even in its brevity. Chris had a girlfriend and they had been together for five years.
I stayed in Milwaukee for New Years and Rick came up for a few days. We went to a party at Kevin’s house on New Years Eve. Kevin was an acquaintance and occasional drinking buddy I met at Lee’s Tavern. He only lived five blocks from me and two blocks behind Lee’s. The party crowd hung out for a while and eventually migrated to Lee’s to bring in the New Year. I wanted to call Chris and invite him out with us but I knew he was with family and Kim.
When we arrived at Lee’s it was already beginning to get busy and all the tables were full. There were a few stools left at the bar. After relaxing with my first drink I looked around sporadically half expecting to see Maya and Chad. I hadn’t spoken to them since our falling out. I didn’t want to have a run-in with either one of them but was hoping Jon would at least show up with his friends. I noticed the pool table was open and thought about playing a few games with Kevin or Rick. The last time I shot pool at Lee’s I was with Jon and Maya. I couldn’t get that image off the table so I turned away deciding no pool for tonight. I assumed they were not likely to show up so I let my mind leave the nostalgia of the old threesome and wonder into the new one.
Much of my personal and break time at work with Chris was spent around Lori. I felt more comfortable with Lori around as if her presence somehow restrained me from expressing my developing passion for Chris. Suddenly my thoughts were interrupted by Rick counting down practically screaming to get my attention. 2007 was here and my new year began with one wish; wanting to be closer to Chris.
During Peak I somehow found the creative energy to work on a short documentary about my family. All the footage was shot during the four day Thanksgiving holiday I spent in Guntersville and all editing was done between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Now that that project was complete I was ready to begin a new one. But as January would have it, the usual depression I experience this time of year crept in and it was darkened by the Wisconsin winter. I allowed myself to fantasize about Chris instead of focusing on a new project. I began to accept that my fondness of Chris was emerging into the desire of a physical bond as well as an emotional one. Despite the knowledge of Kim, I wanted to spend more time with him outside of work. I wasn’t sure how we could arrange time together with his busy schedule which included going to a technical college for business but I wouldn’t permit myself to think about the logistics. I just wanted Chris.
Peak was over. The holidays couldn’t have passed any slower. I wanted to return to work so I could see Chris and I was ready to get back into the grind. I knew there were changes going to be made at work. It is customary to move part-time supervisors around after the new year. There was talk that I was going to be moved to the Primary. As an unloader I was hoping to become an unload supervisor. I didn’t think my skills would be wasted as a sort supervisor.
I arrived at work Tuesday evening about 30 minutes early. I went outside to the break area to have a cigarette and wait for Chris. One by one other supervisors began shuffling outside as well. Every time the door opened I inconspicuously looked up to see if it was Chris. But he never came out. After a few words with coworkers I went inside and walked upstairs for the meeting when I saw Chris. He was passing me to go have a cigarette as he jokingly pushed me out of is way. I wanted to follow but continued up the stairs smiling and looking back hoping he would ask me to join him. Lori was already in the presort office and we talked about work anticipating the announcement of supervisors being moved.
Chris finally came in as well as the rest of the supervisors and the meeting began. Larry talked about our numbers during Peak. We all had done remarkably well considering all the aggravation of being overworked. Then right before disbanding Larry had his full time managers announce who would be working for whom and where. The Primary manager, Asshole #3, looked over at me. I knew before he said a word where I was going and despite having to work for him I was happy to hear the words “Raelea, you will be running Unload 1-8.”
There have been some challenges but that’s to be expected when running a new area. I already knew some of the employees since I was an unloader on 9-16. One of my employees on 1-8 was Tami. Her and I started the job at the same time and went through training together. She was approached by human resources at the same time I was regarding the promotion process. Tami is only two years older than me and because of her maturity, experience and being a female UPS wanted her as a supervisor. However, she wasn’t interested in leaving the union and having more responsibility. Tami is married and has a daughter. She wanted to come in and work her mindless job and go home. She mainly needed the health insurance for her family. I used to encourage Tami to become a supervisor but since I have been a part of the typical bullshit corporate bureaucracy I remind her often she made the right decision. Sometimes I wish I still did the mindless labor of unloading trailers.
Health insurance was a big incentive for many employees with families. The other big incentive was for college students. UPS has a program specifically designed to reimburse tuition for employees that go to school. I was looking into the possibility of attending graduate school in business. I had been informed of the starting salary for full-time management and thought that maybe UPS was for meant me and a chance to pay off student loans that have been hanging over my head since 1995. It seemed like my days of art, writing and especially music were falling by the wayside. I couldn’t help but question my motives but forged ahead with UPS.
I was becoming a corporate whore without actually having sex with the bosses to get promoted. Luckily the harassment I received from men at work wasn’t sexual in terms of flirting or threatening my job if I didn’t ‘perform’ some extracurricular duty. Thus far none of the full-time managers seemed interested in crossing that line. For this I am grateful. However, as a woman, I have been indirectly accused of being incompetent but I will continue to suck it up. I want to be promoted. I’ve already begun the process. There are two tests both psychological and business oriented and a formal full length evaluation done by my immediate supervisor. Once I pass I go before a panel of UPS managers and answer a series of questions through role playing or whatever is requested. For now, I focus on my job at hand and doing the best I can.
Lately there has been a group of supervisors that meet for breakfast after work. The Primary supervisors usually wrap up by 2:30. We pick between three restaurants close by depending on which is not the busiest. Many businesses here cater to the third shift worker. It is nice to go out, get a bite to eat and bitch about work with my fellow supervisors until 4 or 5:00 in the morning. Sometimes a full-time manager will join us which makes for an interesting time. The best part about that is they will usually pick up the tab and buy everyone’s breakfast; crazy, considering we get up to fifteen supervisors and employees to come out with us.
After Friday night sort the same group has started a new ritual. We have been going to a bar in Cudahy called Club Bagdad. I’m not sure where the owners got the name. They’re not from Iraq. They’re just white home grown Midwesterners. And the ‘Club’ part is mind boggling as well. It’s not a club. There’s no dance floor or stage for musicians; just an old beat up juke box filled with classic rock & roll, some real moldy oldies and a few new pop albums that I’m not familiar with. Club Bagdad opens at 6AM and most of its regular customers at that time are either us third shifters wanting to start off our Saturday in a drunken stupor or a pure bred alcoholic waking up to get a head start. They tend to sit at one of the bar and we sit closer to the jukebox and pool table.
I’ve been helping out around the hub killing time and waiting for Chris to finish up. He is usually one of the last part-time supervisors to leave. He’s been a supervisor for at least four years and knows more about the night sort and the entire Oak Creek hub than our sort manager, Larry. Larry began running this sort a year before I arrived. He came from the Preload with absolutely no hub experience. I came to realize that getting thrown to the wolves was something that never changed no matter how high up the ladder I went. I must be stupid for pursuing a career with UPS! Club Bagdad has become my refuge along with my fellow supervisors also in need of refuge.
Chris and I have utilized the time after the sort to get to know one another. I’ve learned a lot about him. He still lives at home with his parents in Racine. He’s 22 and has already developed a thrifty way of life. He says paying rent is throwing money away which I agree but he should move out on his own. He talks about Kim occasionally and eventually wants to buy a small house or condo with her somewhere in Milwaukee. Chris has been dating Kim since high school.
The more Midwesterners I meet the more I realize how old fashioned these people are. I feel like I’ve entered a time warp. I thought marrying your high school sweetheart ended with the baby boomers. And here I’m finding kids 15 years younger than me getting married and popping out their own kids. Wisconsin is a factory state for sure. So much of its rural population consists of high school graduates or drop-outs, who marry out of high school, get a factory job and have children immediately and not necessarily in that order. Many of my coworkers, employees and bosses have never had another job. They started at UPS right of high school. The ones that actually attend college usually do so online part-time or attend a small technical college with accelerated programs.
I’m truly amazed at how many people here don’t travel except maybe once to Florida or Arizona. If it weren’t for TV and the internet I would call these people downright backwoods. Even my small-town Guntersville cousins went away to college. No wonder I get strange looks from people when I tell them about the places I’ve been and lived. They seem dumbfounded when I talk about Hurricane Katrina like it happened in some third-world country.‘W’ Bush had too much influence in Wisconsin which is typically a blue state.
I know Chris isn’t the exception to most of my observations of midwestern culture but I still like him. I’ve been trying to get him to come out with us on Saturday mornings after the sort. He’s been out to breakfast with us once or twice but hasn’t come to Club Bagdad. I want to spend time with Chris with some liquid encouragement. I may express to him how I feel. I’m not brave enough to do so sober rather my brain puts on the breaks for my mouth. Sobriety allows my intellect to rule my emotions which reminds me of Kim while conversing with Chris. I think with a few of his Captain Morgan’s and coke and my Jameson’s on the rocks we could break the silence. I want my mind clouded with alcohol to allow my heart the freedom of a much awaited passion. He has flirted as much as I have these last few weeks. I’ve had a crush on Chris since October and I’m ready for the next step without thinking about the consequences.
It’s Friday again and the night went by quickly. I had so much fun running my unload. Everything ran smoothly and the bonus was Chris hanging around my area and passively flirting back at me with his boyish half smile. It must be a young male Cancer thing. Chris doesn’t work in the Primary but frequently passes my unload in order to get to the Brown Belt. He has been assisting the South side manager since the moves were made. For this I am grateful. I see him more often than I did when I ran the White. He has become very protective of me on 1-8 making sure I don’t get more than my share of bad trailers. Bad trailers consist of a range of problems from having a lot of bulk to getting a lot of drop frames or simply getting a trailer or two that won’t take a jack. The ‘bad’ trailers are usually distributed fairly between the four unloads to ensure an equal production down time in the Primary. Unfortunately favoritism tends to lean towards 25-32 whose unload supervisor whines until he gets his way.
Chris had promised me last week that he would come to Club Bagdad. Tonight, he was more open and friendly than usual. It could have been the same eagerness I felt. Despite his frequent visits we have inadvertently kept our fondness for one another on the down low with the exception of Lori. Chris doesn’t know of my confession to her. I had to tell somebody. I don’t have any friends outside of work anymore. Lori’s reaction luckily wasn’t of jealousy like Maya’s; instead she has been extra protective of Chris...and me! I seem to be the only one not protecting someone.
I decided to forgo breakfast and stick around the hub for a while to make sure Chris wasn’t going to change his mind. We finished up around 5:00 and went out to a break area with a few coworkers. I knew we were going to leave soon and the anticipation overwhelmed me. My stomach was filled with butterflies and I felt like I was in high school again. I hadn’t felt this giddy since I dated Nathan. It was the first time that I allowed so much time to lapse without making a move on a potential crush. Years of detachment most likely had something to do with it.
Chris and I walked out to the parking lot together. Club Bagdad was only 15 minutes away so we had about 30 minutes to kill before the bar opened. The temperature was around 15 degrees and Chris’s diesel truck took a long time to warm up. It made sense when he got in my car to wait. We sat quietly for a while and smoked a cigarette. I broke the silence with an Ani Difranco CD. We talked a little about work and Chris’s coursework at school but Kim’s name never came up. After a few more cigarettes Chris got out and he followed me to the bar.
I led the way into the bar. It felt awkward with every head turning in our direction. Did anyone know? The excitement of Chris being here soon reclaimed my emotions as we sat down and ordered our first drink. I was one step closer to the fantasy. One of the supervisors bought a round of shots. Chris and I had a shot of Yager. Down the hatch and more drinks followed. The group of us mingled for a while; playing pool and selecting songs in the jukebox. The warmer my insides grew the lighter my head flew. Fatigue brought on a good buzz sooner than I expected.
I waited patiently and finally got Chris alone. We sat down at the bar together while the rest continued in their discussions and games. My brain felt like it was on fire overloaded with questions and confessions. There was so much I wanted to say but I refrained not wanting to bombard Chris with too much at once. Luckily the alcohol helped in that department. What did Chris think or feel? I wondered if he felt anxious.
I wanted to touch him so badly even just to hold his hand. As we exchanged glances and nudges throughout our conversation I could sense his acceptance of my affection. We mutually scooted my bar stool closer to his. I wasn’t sure what we were talking about anymore. My mouth moved more than his but the words were floating out in a fog. I was lost in the energy that flowed through the connection of our shoulders leaning gently on one another. My face felt warm and I wanted Chris to brush his fingers against my cheek while I closed my eyes and let his mouth wonder towards mine. I wanted to feel his breath exhale into my parting lips and focus all my energy and passion in this one kiss.
I opened my eyes when Chris began talking about his questioning relationship with Kim. My desires ceased but the excitement grew listening to his doubts. It wasn’t the words but how they were spoken that sent out the message. I knew then that Chris would reciprocate any sexual move I made. However, that was not going to happen here in front of our coworkers for a number of reasons but mostly because of the UPS fraternization rule. I forced myself to stop and listen. Chris said he was drunk but he hid that just as well as he hid everything else while confined to his shell. I kept hoping his inebriated state would allow the crab to become exposed and confess his mutual desire. The more he spoke the more I wanted everything and everyone around us to fall away so I could curl up inside his arms. Despite my mind reminding me of his youth and naiveté I felt safe with Chris and I couldn’t recall ever a time in my life having this feeling with any other man.
9 AM rolled around and our group was dwindling. The sun shone brightly outside and I knew fatigue or the pressure of some family or girlfriend obligation was going to take Chris away from this pleasurable moment. Despite my drunkenness I still felt giddy. My nerves had calmed for a little while but the ‘late’ hour brought back the butterflies knowing it was now or never. I had to tell Chris something. I wanted more time with him and so thankfully for drunkenness I looked into his eyes and outright told him so. I asked him if he wanted to come over to my place. My throat tightened as I held my breath waiting for an answer. Without hesitation Chris accepted my invite. I ordered us one more shot and silently toasted “ to confessions.”
The few coworkers that were left were too drunk to notice Chris and I walk out together. We both stupidly got into our own vehicles and drove to my place. Luckily I lived less than two miles away. Chris parked his truck behind my car and we walked inside. The rush of hot air was smothering after riding in cold car that never had a chance to warm up. I gave Chris a brief tour then poured him and myself a glass of wine as if we needed more. It was something to keep my hands busy.
We sat down on the sofa. Chris sat upright and feet on the floor while I sat facing the sofa on his left with my legs tucked against my chest. For a few minutes there was silence between us. The last man that sat here with me in unsure silence was Jon which was over a year ago. I knew I had to be the one to break the silence and I did so by confessing how long I had wanted to be alone with Chris. He rubbed his fingers on the back of my left hand then turned it over and held it submissively. My heart began to pound but I didn’t move. We looked at each other and he put his arms around me and pulled me closer. I was surprised by his move but delighted nonetheless. He held me against him and I knew he could feel the passionate energy between us. My cheek was lying on his right shoulder and my chest was across his. His breathing staggered while struggling for control as each inhale and exhale intensified the next. His hands pressed gently and slowly moved up and down my back. I sensed his hesitation and intimidation no doubt of my age and experiences. I took a deep breath an whispered “I want to kiss you.”
I lifted my head off his shoulder and leaned back. I moved my right hand slowly towards his face. While softly stroking his cheek I leaned in closer. I felt every muscle in his body tighten. I glanced up and as we looked into each others eyes I knew this was right. He leaned in closer and I could feel the pocket of sensation lingering between our mouths. I closed my eyes and the kiss began softly with the subtle touch of his tongue caressing my lips while my fingers outlined his chin. Chris cupped his hands around my face and we passionately embraced; mouths entwined while our bodies began to pulse in unison. I straddled myself up on my knees and over his lap. He pulled me down kissing my neck and shoulders while his hands gently and briefly slid over my breasts. The blood rushed through my veins sending tingling sensations from my breasts to my abdomen. I pressed myself down and sat on his lap grinding my hips into him. Our mouths met again while our hands roamed effortlessly and mindlessly all over each other.
Chris held one hand behind my neck while the other moved along my arm, over my breast and down toward my stomach. I started to remove my blouse but Chris grabbed it and swooped it over my head while he kissed my chest and neck. I felt his erection beneath my damp slacks which only excited me more. He took off his shirt as I unfastened his belt and pants. I slid out of my slacks while he unhooked my bra. He kissed my mouth passionately while circling one hand around my breast and sliding the other over my panties. I went down on my knees to the floor in front of him. I began to kiss his stomach just above the elastic of his boxers. He gasped with excitement. His little whimpers and moans excited me more and I wanted now more than ever to make love with him. So I stood up grabbed his hands and pulled him to me while walking backwards to my bedroom. I sat on my bed and pulled his boxers down allowing my mouth to freely roam his body. After a few minutes he went down on me exploring every spot of pleasure I never dreamed he would find. We played and fondled before making love well into the afternoon then fell asleep in each others arms.
I was wakened by the sound of footsteps. I looked up and saw the naked silhouette of Chris’s body walking out of my bedroom. He returned with his clothes on then sat on the bed stroking my hair out of my face. I was still half asleep mumbling and asking him not to leave. He pulled up the blanket and crawled underneath then put his arms around me. He said he had to leave but didn’t want to go. I felt cathartic after holding back my feelings for so long but I wanted more. The comfort of Chris’s company filled my lonely world in Milwaukee and even just for this day I didn’t want it to end. I wasn’t looking ahead in terms of a relationship rather I was looking to fill the void of the weekend. I still had this evening, tomorrow and all day Monday before I would engage in social contact with people I trusted. The only other way to get human contact would be to go shopping or go to a bar neither of which I had the money or desire to do.
No one of this was said but my vulnerability must have been obvious. I felt like crying but knew that had a lot to do with post-sex hormones. My brain goes to mush after amazing lovemaking. I didn’t need to say a word Chris read everything on my face. I couldn’t hide anything from him even if I tried and I wasn’t trying. I was fully awake and sober as was he. Despite inebriation I remembered everything and he said he did as well. I asked him if he regretted anything and he said no but had a lot of thinking to do. I understood but feared this encounter was going to be brief. If I had just recently wanted this intimacy with Chris then parting would be easier. But it had been five months of secret desire perpetually growing like a snowball rolling down a hill. The farther it rolled the harder I fell for Chris. It may have been the sex but nevertheless I definitely had feelings at bay that were stronger than I realized until they unfolded this morning.
Chris was choosing at this moment to lie down with me despite his schedule or lack of sleep. He turned his body toward me then kissed me. I was still naked under the covers and my body was on fire again. His hands went down my side over my hip and down my leg. He told me how beautiful I was and how much he enjoyed giving me satisfaction. I fell into bliss this time with all my faculties in tact which made it much easier to physically become aroused and orgasm. He took off his clothes and took out another condom from his jacket pocket. This day hadn’t ended yet and I wanted to enjoy every little moment assuming it would be the last.
Back in the South
-A memoir excerpt in Milwaukee
It’s August and the southern swelter of late summer still lingers; though some of the maples have already lost a few leaves. That could have been from the remnants of Hurricane Fay with her much needed rain. Georgia has been afflicted with a terrible drought for a few years now so I doubt any resident of this state is complaining about the early raking of wet leaves.
I’m sitting at my desk typing away with this half-ass six-finger typing talent and intermittent thumb or two. I never learned to type properly. I still don’t know how I got through high school and college, twice, without knowing how to type. At least I don’t do the one-finger hunt and peck. Thankfully, dexterity is definitely on my side but considering I’m a musician who plays a number of instruments that’s a given. The only real issue with my typing ability or inability in this case, is I have to look at the keyboard while I type.
My fingers wait patiently while my eyes float off somewhere toward the window. Much of my inspiration for writing these days has come from the view. My desk is intentionally placed right next to a very large window which overlooks the pines, maples and oak trees full of cardinals, mockingbirds and squirrels at constant play. The occasional hummingbird will buzz by going to and fro the feeder of red sugar water which stands in the front yard. I’m on the second floor on the side of the house so the view is almost comical in that either the wildlife has already accepted my presence into their tree house club or they are completely oblivious to my observations. I’m going with the former. Either way, the animals seem to enjoy the sunrise glistening off the dewdrops in the trees as much as I do.
I’ve been living in this big house in Fayetteville, Georgia since the beginning of April. Fayetteville is about 25 miles south of Atlanta. The house belongs to Rick. Rick and I have been friends for 19 years; since my freshman year and his senior year at Florida State University. We have also been roommates off and on throughout the years which almost mutilated the friendship a few times. He’s a slob, I like a clean house. I shouldn’t complain that much considering that’s the only real problem we have living together besides the fact that he procrastinates and is very lazy. I have pushed all of my criticism aside, for now, because he just made a special trip to Milwaukee to help me move down here. And at least this time the move wasn’t drenched with cold and ice and falling snow. That was the move up to Milwaukee in December 2005, three months after Hurricane Katrina.
Nope, this time it was smooth sailing away from Lake Michigan and the farther south we got the warmer it got and the more we could soak in the beauty of spring. It seems so surreal to think that Hurricane Katrina has sunk three years into the past. I lasted through three Midwest winters and I’m still not sure how I tolerated the weather that long. Funny, right now I wish I could get a small glimpse of that winter just long enough to cool this scorching heat of Georgia.
I have written several songs since I moved here and even revised a few older ones. There is something about this house or maybe it’s the heat that has fueled my creative fire. It could be that I’m not so far away from my friends and family anymore. It could also be that I am actually absorbing some vitamin D since there is a sun down here! I can’t believe how long Midwesterners can go without seeing the sun. It is so depressing. I went to a tanning bed about once a week this last winter in Milwaukee. It helped a little but anything imaginative in my brain was clouded by darkness, literally. I’m trying to appreciate my southern blood even though it has been thickened by the cold and having trouble enduring the heat. I’m sure it will thin out again after a few years in my hometown in Loxahatchee, Florida. That is the next stop.
As much as I love living here in this quiet neighborhood of Fayetteville and having the entire upstairs to myself I will be moving shortly after my niece, Rowan Marie, is born. My sister’s expected due date is sometime late November. She will have three months of maternity leave and upon returning to work I will begin as Aunt ‘Nanny’ Raelea. I decided a few months back that I wanted to care for Rowan for at least the first couple of years of her life. Infants in daycare don’t bode too well with me plus it will save my sis and her husband some money. This decision was the icing on the cake for my departure from the vast cold of Milwaukee. It couldn’t have come at a better time since my job with UPS was beginning to wear me down mentally and spiritually.
I wrote “Rowan’s Song” for piano and vocal in anticipation of the birth of my niece, Rowan Marie. My sister selected the name ‘Rowan’ after watching a film that had a character of little girl with the same name. Her curiosity of the name’s origin led my sister down a path in which we both have crossed throughout our lives. Neither of us practice any religion but Wicca has always seemed the most peaceful, and natural considering the religion is based on the energies of Mother Earth.
The Rowan is one of the thirteen trees of Wicca. It is a small deciduous tree native to the temperate regions in the northern hemisphere. There are more species of rowan in the Himalayan Mountains of China than anywhere else though it is commonly associated with the British Isles. It is thought that the name “rowan” derived from a Nordic word raun or raudnian which means “getting red.” In the autumn the rowan tree grows red berries and the foliage turns red as well.
‘Marie’ is a simpler story. It is our mother’s name. My sister knew her first born girl would be named after our mom and it just so happens to flow beautifully with ‘Rowan.’
A Resounding 'No'
-A memoir about growing up in Loxahatchee
I was lying in bed late one Friday evening debating whether I should get up and ask my parents a question or forget about it. I was extremely tired after a long day of traveling. I got up slowly, came out of my bedroom, stumbled down the short hallway, through the kitchen, and then stood outside their closed bedroom door. It is a small house thus a short walk of approximately twenty-five feet. Despite its size and simple design the house carries a special sentiment in that my dad built it with his own two hands from foundation to drywall constructing everything except the plumbing and tile. The energy in this home holds a particular familiarity and comfort that many people never experience.
My parents had already gone to bed fifteen minutes prior to my approach. I was hesitant in asking the question for two reasons. First, I was afraid of waking them. I’ve always disliked waking anyone. My dad may be deeply caught in a terrifying nightmare and my approach could provoke a violent response of arms and legs thrashing about and knocking the shit out of me. Or the sudden snatch from the dream could cause a panic attack or worse, a heart attack! My anxious mind is always overreacting. This situation was different in that there was a door and about fifteen feet of space between me and their bed. Also, I was inebriated after drinking six glasses of wine and smoking pot at the next door neighbors’ birthday party. I have never been good at disguising my voice in this condition and felt nervous despite the lack of proximity between us. At any rate, I was already up and decided I better ask the question soon in case they were still awake and heard me wondering around the kitchen. I asked and my parents both immediately and unanimously responded with a resounding “NO!”
Growing up in a rural area surrounded by five miles of dirt roads, pines, palms, orange trees and cypress trees with canals and lots of warm weather all year around made for an exciting and liberating lifestyle as a kid. I had an abundance of freedom and places to roam unlike the city kids that lived twenty miles inland and closer to the Atlantic coastline. I lived with my younger sister and my parents on five and a quarter acres in a three bedroom, two bath house with a large kitchen and a sufficient family room. There was a pond with a wooden dock and a barn for our horses all of which my dad had built along with the house. Before the house was built we lived in a three-bedroom house trailer for the first four and a half years. My parents bought the property and we moved in December 1978 while I was in the first grade. We had been living in a residential area of West Palm Beach close to Palm Beach International Airport. The noise of the city and the need for fresh air and space was Dad’s motivation for the move. Mom wanted a rural place for her horses and other animals that would eventually become part of the family.
Throughout the years we had dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese, guinea pigs, exotic birds and of course all the wild animals in their fascinating, natural habitat. The wild animals were quite diverse living in south Florida and included irritating insects like mosquitoes and fire ants. There were lots of bright green tree frogs with their little suction cup toes and spiders that were good for consuming the insects. Before the screen was built around the porch, spider webs were everywhere especially around the porch lights to trap and eat the mosquitoes. The tree frogs indulged in this parasitic delicacy as well while suctioned to our windows in the evenings. In the mornings all that was left were little round toe prints on the window panes.
Lizards and geckos came in all shapes and colors, and there were turtles of various sizes along with many species of snakes slithering around like harmless blue indigos, dangerous rattlers and water moccasins. Luckily snakes don’t like the vibrations of horse hooves so there weren’t too many roaming around on our property. After a hard rain, the L-8 canal which was a couple of miles behind our place would flood as well as the land around us. This brought the occasional alligator onto our property and into the pond. They were usually no larger than three feet and posed no real danger to the larger animals or to my sister and me. But Dad still shot the alligator for fear of it attacking and eating our smaller animals like the ducks and geese, not to mention all the bass and brim in the pond that he fed every day to fatten up for our future fishing weekends in the john-boat or off the dock. Bass and brim were tasty when cleaned then battered in corn meal and flour to fry. And there was no point in the torture of catch and release unless the fish were too small to eat.
Rodents were abundant like bats, rats, field mice, little adorable brown wild rabbits with white tails, and scrawny squirrels. There were raccoons, skunks, bobcats and foxes. I saw opossums and armadillos but usually and unfortunately as road kill.
There were many species of birds like chatty mockingbirds, blackbirds, woodpeckers, chickadees, sparrows, hawks, ospreys, white cranes, ibises, blue herons, gray herons and owls. One of my favorite animals was the big beautiful white barn owls with round faces and inquisitive wide eyes. They liked to build their nests in the barn and Dad didn’t mind too much considering the rat population was kept to a minimum. One evening, my parents, sister and myself heard loud screeching sounds in the barn from the house. This was not the typical cooing and hooting we were accustomed to hearing every evening right after dark. It was a panicked screech, so we all decided to check out the commotion. We were already aware of a nest with three baby barn owls but didn’t expect to find one of the chicks on the concrete floor of the barn. The mama was circling and screeching above us. There was no choice but to pick up the baby carefully and bring it into the house. Like most species of birds, barn owl parents will not accept a chick back into the nest after being handled by humans.
The little chick was kind of ugly in its bald, featherless pink skin but still innocent and cute at the same time. Its little round face reminded my sister and I of a comic strip character named Ziggy. The Ziggy character had been merchandised into dolls for various holidays and special occasions like graduation. My sister, Randi and I collected many over the years and decided to call the baby owl Ziggy. Mom made a few phone calls to locate a bird refuge and find out how to care for a baby owl. The closest refuge was a four-hour drive north into central Florida. It was a Friday evening and we wouldn’t be able to drive Ziggy to the refuge until Monday morning.
Ziggy’s fragile life depended on us. He had a noticeable fractured wing so Mom wrapped gauze then white tape around the chick to hold the wing against his body. Feeding him proved to be the most difficult task. At the advice of the handlers at the refuge, we first tried raw hamburger meatballs mixed with raw eggs, but Ziggy wouldn’t eat them. The inevitable feeding of mice was the only alternative, or this little owl would starve to death. Mom got the mice from the pet store and brought them home. The refuge handlers advised taking the mouse by the tail and bopping it’s head on the table to knock it unconscious or kill it instantly, then put it in a blender. Ugh! The liquid mouse mimicked the regurgitated mouse from mama owl. Randi and I couldn’t kill the mouse. Mom was hesitant so Dad did the honors. Growing up on a farm, Dad had more stamina for those kinds of things. Ziggy thought nothing of it and devoured the liquid mouse.
Monday morning came quickly and it was time to drive to the refuge. Randi and I became quite attached to this little owl. Our parents were more adamant than ever regarding the keeping of this pet and ‘no’ was the inevitable answer. Parting with Ziggy was tearful and joyous knowing that he would have a new home and possibly be rehabilitated back to nature. For many years after we called the refuge to check on Ziggy’s situation. His wing injury turned out to be extensive forbidding him to ever fly properly. He had to spend the rest of his life at the refuge but had plenty of space with other bird of prey in the same predicament.
The advantage of being surrounded by nature and domestic animals is Randi and I weren’t latch-key kids and weren’t exposed to the same things as other kids. Our schoolmates and ‘suburb’ or ‘city’ friends had enforced curfews and more rules to follow than us. Their parents were more apt to say no to questions like, “Can I stay out late tonight?” or “Can I go to a party?’ If I had the option to party, I suppose my parents would have answered the same. My friends lived too far away and there weren’t too many neighbors with kids my age. Most of the precautions and rules were about safety in the woods and on the dirt roads. Living in the country meant riding horses, driving three-wheeler ATV’s, and eventually cars therefore my parents had to take into account the weather and road conditions before giving the okay to do anything.
Horseback riding was fun and challenging. There were plenty of desolate dirt roads and land for the horses to easily spook and make sudden unexpected turns. Randi was five and I was eight when we began learning how to ride. Mom was an excellent rider and teacher. She had been showing horses and barrel racing since she was a teenager. Super Sport, her pure-bread Morgan, was a year younger than me and full of vigor but very well trained in English riding. My mom bought Sport as a colt and trained him before showing him herself. He was tall and majestic standing at 15.2 hands. This means he was fifteen and a half hands, 62 inches or 157cm. His coat was a dark chocolate brown with a long mane and tail of a lighter milk chocolate. He also had the perfect white socks around his ankles which judges looked for in shows. Sport had a wonderful disposition but because of his training no one could really ride him except my mom.
Miss Red was half Morgan and half Saddlebred. She was an older and less energetic horse of twenty-nine years. She was more passive and very sweet and patient allowing anyone even untrained riders to climb aboard. She was a perfect horse for lighter people like kids to learn how to ride western style. Miss Red was smaller and had a beautiful reddish brown coat and orange mane and tail. Her eyes were that of a rescued dog; so hopeful and loving toward everyone. Mom said she was like this even in her younger years. Eventually blindness, arthritis and constant fatigue became too much of a burden for Miss Red. Once she began walking away from food and hay my mom knew it was time to end her misery.
I remember the night of Miss Red’s departure very well. Mom wasn’t sure of our reaction to the death of a pet. This was the first. She had my grandmother, Mamma, over to keep Randi and me inside and occupied away from the windows. I remember thinking it odd that Mamma was spending the night on a school night. I knew something was wrong but played along for Randi’s sake. Mom and Dad eventually returned and gave us the news. Miss Red was euthanized and taken away for cremation. We didn’t go to school the next day and all I kept thinking about was how lonely Sport must have felt.
A few months had passed and Christmastime was approaching. Like other kids, we had made a list for Santa Claus. The lists had many different toys and gadgets; everything we wanted except a horse. It never occurred to me that such a request could be attainable. Much to my surprise Christmas morning welcomed us with not just one but two horses. One was a feisty gelded Quarter Horse named Rusty and the other was a half Quarter Horse, half Arabian mare named Copper-penny. They were both around eight years old. Copper was the taller horse standing at 14.2 hands so she was given to me. Rusty was shorter at 14.1 hands and very round. Randi looked like Yosemite Sam while riding him.
Among many precautions regarding the horses the most important was not leaving the feed room doors open otherwise the horses would flip the lids off the barrels full of pellets, oats and sweet feed. Horses cannot overeat grass and hay but their bodies cannot handle overconsumption of the food in barrels. Without intervention they will lie down after uncomfortably overindulging and eventually die.
Randi and I did leave the doors open a few times and a lot of money had to be spent on a veterinarian to come all the way out to our place. Medicine was administered and the horse has to be walked for hours. I remember one time I heard Mom cursing and screaming in the stalls. I went over to see what all the fuss was about. Rusty was in the feed room stuffing his face while Mom was in the process of trying to get him out. When she saw me she yelled assuming I was the one who had supposedly left the door open. I said that I had latched the feed room door and didn’t understand how he got in. This made her more enraged and she told me to get out. As I was leaving the barn, I suddenly heard a loud crack and felt this horrible pain in the back of my head. I fell to the ground holding my head and when I brought my hands down in front of my face there was blood all over hands running down my arms. I looked behind me and saw an old wooden horse brush with a bloody jagged edge lying on the ground. Mom didn’t realize the brush had hit my head. She had thrown it toward the inside wall of the barn but it ricochet and hit me. It was an accident. Mom never spanked or hit and to this day feels bad about the whole mess especially when I comment on the inch long scar I have on the back of my head. Luckily Rusty had not been in the feed room long and didn’t get sick. After a few other incidences we later discovered that the horses learned to unlatch the feed room door which was actually a three step process. Eventually Dad installed a lock.
We often rode especially on the weekends giving ample opportunity for falling off. Our young leg muscles were not quite developed and quick reflexes had to be learned over time. Though Mom warned us of a horse’s sudden moves, one has to fall off many times before becoming a good rider. Mom always said to get right back on the horse so to overcome the fear. Horses sense fear like dogs and if they do it gives them control. Such a large and relatively dumb animal can be dangerous with too much control. Of course, they were smart enough to unlatch the feed room door in the barn.
I remember a specific time when I fell off of Copper-penny. Randi and I were out horseback riding one Saturday afternoon without Mom and Sport. We were heading back home after a couple of hours of being out. We were older and more experienced riders then so Mom allowed us to go riding without her. There were various trails and routes through the woods and off the dirt roads in which we had discovered or actually trenched out over the years. The trail we were on that day was surrounded by muddy swamps as a result of a hard rain from the previous few days.
Rusty and Copper-penny always knew when we were heading home. Their behavior became more anxious and excited because they knew upon arrival they would get a tasty bail of hay once the riding gear was removed and their bodies cooled. Sometimes cooling them off meant a ride into the pond. This can be a tricky situation in that the rider must let up on the reins to allow the horse complete freedom of his head. Other complications can come from falling off the horse while he is swimming. Mom taught us to slide backwards off the rump of the horse. Their back legs remain straight while paddling and therefore do not have a harmful kick as they do out of water. However, the front legs stroke through the water vigorously similar to a dog but unlike a dog those hooves can be quite dangerous. If we were to fall off the side of the horse we had to swim away as quickly as possible to avoid being clobbered accidentally. Horses spook easily on land and especially in water despite the fact that most actually enjoy a brief swim. We all liked to take a dip once in a while with the horses especially in the grueling heat of August.
Horses that co-habit don’t like to be separated and Copper-penny and Rusty always knew Super Sport was waiting for them. Before our rides Mom reminded us to not allow the horses to gallop or run home. This only encouraged their anticipation and caused them to spook more easily. I didn’t think we were too close to home yet and wanted one last canter before walking. Twisting and turning curves around cypress trees, pine trees and palm trees made for a fun ride. The rush of wind through my hair and Copper-penny’s orange mane was invigorating. Copper knew the trail and seemed to enjoy it as well. All of a sudden, Copper came to an abrupt stop. I was thrown over her right shoulder a few feet in front of her. The sound must have scared a rabbit in the brush and when it scampered and hopped quickly away Copper got spooked by its movements. She decided to take off but graciously jumped over me instead of trampling me in her fright. I felt the brush of one hoof on my arm without injury.
When I started to get up, Copper was walking toward me then stopped to wait. I looked around for Randi and Rusty then noticed why Copper had abruptly stopped in the first place. My sister was quietly talking to Rusty to keep him calm while standing in front of him holding his reins. He was shoulder deep in muck. Any sudden movement could cause him to sink more. She had to keep his feistiness to a minimum. Slowly, with lots of coaxing, Randi pulled on Rusty’s reins with intermittent tugs. After a few minutes of patient and steady moves, he was out. The four of us walked home in silent gratitude; Rusty needing that swim.
Despite all parental warnings there were several three-wheeler ATV accidents but the worst one was when my sister was going too fast and hit a muddy pot hole in the road. That happened on Sunday sometime in the summer of 1988 before her freshman year and my junior year in high school. My parents were out of town canoeing and primitive camping somewhere along the Peace River out of Arcadia which is northwest of Lake Okeechobee and just east of Sarasota. Mama was at our house for the four days my parents were gone. Randi’s friend Gretchen and my boyfriend, Garvin came out to the house for a visit. We were allowed to have a couple of friends over but we weren’t supposed to be riding the 3-wheelers off the property. When we asked my parents if we could just ride down our road the answer was a definitive ‘no.’
As typical teenagers the four of us wanted out of the house and away from Mamma and hanging out in the barn or in the cypress head at the back of the property where there was a deck and BBQ grill wasn’t far enough away. We had three 3-wheelers; Randi took one, Gretchen the another and Garvin and I took the third one. Not only did we leave the property but we went up the dirt road two and half miles away flying like we were running from the law in the Dukes of Hazard. After we went around a few curves we got separated for a short while with Randi in the lead and Garvin and I trailing behind. Once I rounded the curve we could see Gretchen ahead of us but Randi was faintly visible further ahead.
Suddenly Randi started swerving then flipped her 3-wheeler five or six times before flying off and landing on her back. Gretchen got there first and stood over her not knowing what to do. Randi was screaming and when I approached I noticed she was lying in a bed of fire ants. I couldn’t see any injuries besides some scrapes and cuts but she kept reaching toward her left shoulder crying. Garvin raced home to call 911 while Gretchen and I stayed with Randi trying to figure out how we should move her out of the fire ant bed while not knowing her injuries. We began wiping the ants away quickly but there were so many and the bites had already become visible and abundant. I wasn’t sure what was wrong with her shoulder but noticed a bone sticking up under the skin. We didn’t want to move her for fear of a spinal injury but the ants were biting her all over. Gretchen grabbed Randi’s ankles and I scooped my hands and forearms under her back from above her head. We gently but swiftly without lifting her completely off the ground slid her body about six feet away. We removed some clothing and focused on getting the fire ants off of her body.
Randi seemed dazed and confused and her speech was beginning to slur while she cried and motioned with her left hand toward her right shoulder. I figured she was in shock and possibly had a concussion. Garvin returned and an ambulance arrived after what seemed an eternity. The closest hospital was Palms West on Southern Boulevard which was at least fifteen miles away. I rode in the ambulance with my sister. Garvin and Gretchen took two of the 3-wheelers home leaving the wrecked one for later and got Garvin’s car to drive to the hospital.
Mamma stayed at the house to receive my parent’s call once they got to a phone or if they had arrived. It took many hours to locate my parents and fly them to the hospital. These were the days before cellular telephones so that dreadful phone call could not be made. Instead my parents received the terrifying message via helicopter and a man on a very loud megaphone. Imagine for a moment, camping and relaxing in the quiet woods along a river, and suddenly you hear a chopper then a man’s voice amplified calling out your name above you.
I was waiting in the emergency room when Garvin and Gretchen arrived shortly after. We could hear Randi screaming from the waiting room area. I began to panic and was ready to rush through those double doors to kick some ass when someone came out and told me to quiet down or I would have to be removed. I wanted answers and the nurse, medical assistant or doctor or whoever it was didn’t seem understanding in the least. That asshole left and another asshole came out and informed us that Randi had a broken clavicle (collarbone), hundreds of burning ant bites and a concussion.
Once Randi was out of Radiology they allowed the three of us to go back and see her. I kept wishing my parents would hurry up and get to the hospital then they finally arrived. I felt some relief dreading their reaction. They were not mad, but obviously thankful that my sister was going to be okay and not need surgery. She had to spend a week in the hospital with the first three days in the Intensive Care Unit. Needless to say and unlike riding a horse there was no need to get back on any time soon. Eventually we all rode again but to my recollection it was many years later.
The dirt roads became more of a concern for my parents when I was old enough to drive. Shortly after Randi’s accident and about a month before school started I got my first car. It was a 1980 tan hatch back Ford Mustang LX. As a mechanic Dad got good deals on many vehicles for the family and bought this one for only $500. Having a car meant I didn’t have to endure that rough bouncy ride on a school bus anymore. The commute to and from school was a long one and the shortest route meant having an extra ten miles of dirt roads to travel. My sister rode with me everyday. We were both in the marching band so we stayed after school for practice Monday through Thursday. Garvin had moved 350 miles away to Gainesville. He received a scholarship in track and cross-country at Santa Fe Community College which was not far from my future rival school, The University of Florida. I missed him so much. We had been dating for a year now and the relationship was serious; well as serious as a teenage relationship could possibly be.
It was the middle of September about four weeks into my junior year of high school. One day, after marching band practice, I wanted to leave and get home quickly to receive Garvin’s phone call. I only talked to him twice a week and he had a short window of time to talk between classes and cross-country practice. Our only other communication was through letters. There were no cell phones, email, Facebook, Twitter or webcams back then. We take for granted the convenience of those tools of communication in this information age!
It was around five o’clock in the evening and I remember driving extremely fast down the last portion of Northlake Boulevard which was dirt. I wanted to be home in time for Garvin’s call. I was going about seventy-five miles per hour; not a smart speed in such a lightweight vehicle. My mustang began to slide all over the dry, soft, and sandy road. I was slowly losing control of the car and I could feel it. Dad had warned me about not jerking the steering wheel if ever in this situation, but I wasn’t sure what else to do. The chain of events that followed, to this day, are unexplainable. I am not a religious womyn but there was some presence in that car. A strange, calming rush came over me. I let go of the wheel, closed my eyes and said aloud “Oh well, I am going into the canal” then to my recollection, passed out.
The next thing I remember was the roaring sound of my body being thrown around the inside of the cab. My car nose-flipped and rolled five times into the canal. I did not have my seatbelt on and somehow went through the closed passenger window while the car was rolling and landed face up in the canal with approximately two feet of water above me. When I came to, I realized I was under water after attempting to open my eyes. Oddly, my fear was losing my contact lenses and not drowning. I quickly jerked myself up high enough to get my head out of the water. I found myself sitting with straight arms and hands behind, propped up on a bed of torn branches from the wreckage. It was hard to breathe because my back and neck hurt so badly. I was soaking wet, covered in mud, and had twigs and leaves all in my hair. My shoes and one sock had been ripped off but my shirt and shorts were still on my body. I had no noticeable gashes, bruises or scrapes on my legs or arms.
After what seemed an eternity, two men came running down the canal bank after witnessing my accident a mile down the road from the opposite direction. They were noticeably panicked and once they spotted me asked if I were okay looking surprised to find someone alive. All I could think of was the safety of my musical instruments and asked them to get the clarinets out of the car which was upright on all four wheels and only thirty feet from me. The men asked me if there was anyone else in the car and thankfully no, my sister was not. As if fate were on our side, Randi was riding home with another friend that day.
I remember the paramedics were shocked to see me alive as well. They struggled their way down the bank to get me on the stretcher with a restraining neck brace. Riding in the ambulance and hitting bumps in the road made for a painful experience. Once I was at the hospital the technicians were moving me around in Radiology to get X-rays which felt like knives being stabbed into my back. Every time they moved me, I cried out. It reminded me of Randi’s screams echoing through the emergency room halls after her accident. I was fortunate to have no fractured or broken bones. I was fortunate to be alive.
Dad came to pick me up from the hospital after getting that terrifying phone call that no parent should ever have to receive. When he came to the emergency room where I was still strapped on that uncomfortable board, we both cried; him from fear and relief that I was alive, and me from the physical pain and the guilt of causing his fear. I didn’t have to stay at the hospital overnight and was released to go after several hours of waiting. Once I was in Dad’s truck I couldn’t wait to get home and go to bed. Dad is typically a fast driver, despite his warnings to me. He always said that he was a more experienced driver and knew the roads better. He was proven correct with this ordeal and to this day, he has never had a wreck on those dirt roads. But this one time, Dad drove the dirt roads very slowly and carefully so not to hit the bumps too hard.
I was bed ridden for two weeks and had to endure painful physical therapy sessions a few times a week for a month. The x-rays revealed extensive bruising that went through and through the muscle and tissue in my entire back. Living off those dirt roads had its share of disadvantages besides the daily wear and tear of beating the shit out of your vehicle.
One car accident was not enough because exactly one year later during my senior year of high school I had another one. Surprised that my parents even allowed me to drive again? Well, their fears were awakened again with an early morning phone call from the police. This time I had a 1981 large red four-door Ford Fairmount and totaled it in a head on collision one morning on my way to school. The new facility of Wellington High School was open so the drive was only fifteen miles but I still had to drive the first five and a half on a dirt road. It was a dark early morning drive before the time had changed back to Eastern Standard from Daylight Savings. This particular morning Randi and I had to leave even earlier in order to take Garvin home before going to school. He was living back home after transferring from Santa Fe to Palm Beach Community College. He had spent the night after sneaking out to our house through my bedroom window the previous evening once everyone had gone to bed. This wasn’t the first time and Garvin was routinely waiting down the road for Randi and me to pick him up.
After two and a half miles and past the culvert bridge over the M Canal we came up on a large beat up white car driving down the middle of the road at 25 miles per hour. My headlights were blatantly shining into the cars’ back window but the driver would not move over to the right for me to pass. I wasn’t sure who it was which was unusual since our community was so small and rural. Whoever it was they were sure pissing me off. Randi was in the passenger’s seat and Garvin was lying down in the back seat. They joined me in a little ranting road rage when suddenly the white car moved over to the right. I increased my speed to get around quickly.
Passing on the dirt roads made me nervous especially after rolling my last car into a canal. Just as my car was pulling ahead of the white car I saw something coming at me. Within a split second I realized it was my headlights reflecting off of another vehicle. I shouted “Oh shit” and Randi screamed while I hit the breaks and jerked the wheel to the right. The next thing I remember is opening my eyes. Everything was blurred and I suddenly realized the excruciating pain in my left leg. I was struggling to breathe most likely because my blood pressure was so low and I kept passing in and out from the pain. Once I became aware of what happened the pain was worse and I heard someone shouting and panting hysterically. Randi was running around the car screaming “My sister is dying, my sister is dying, someone please help her!!!”
Her words made me more aware of my condition. I looked down and could faintly see my left foot flexed against my shin along with the brake pedal twisted somehow around my dislocated ankle. The front left tire had come through the floorboard. The pain was terrible and the worse I had ever felt. I tried to speak but felt my face get cold and sweaty and knew I was on my way to passing out again. When I opened my eyes Randi was still panicking and Garvin had gotten out of the car uninjured. He was trying to open my door but couldn’t get it open any father than a foot. The car felt stuffy and I was struggling to breathe. I wanted to at least get my head outside the car in order to get some air but outside the humidity was extremely high and the mosquitoes were beginning to swarm.
I couldn’t move. I looked down and noticed I was pinned between the steering wheel and the seat. The entire front portion of my shirt and shorts was drenched with blood. I realized why my sister was screaming. She thought I was bleeding internally. Somehow I could tell that my vital organs were in tact. I didn’t feel any pain in my torso area but that could have been because of the pain in my left leg. That pain also disguised another. When I tried to speak it only came out in whispers. I asked Garvin to calm Randi and convey that it was my mouth rather my insides spewing blood everywhere. That’s when I noticed that my jaw was shifted to the left and I could barely open my mouth. I knew something was wrong when my tongue was not aligned correctly with my upper teeth. Moving it around I could feel many bottom teeth were damaged.
In and out of consciousness I tried to stay awake but to no avail. Garvin was holding my head slightly outside the window and being chewed alive by mosquitoes the size of birds! Randi had gone over to the other vehicle to check on the driver. When she returned I asked her to help swat the mosquitoes off of Garvin. She said the driver was this white trash bitch we knew named Crystal; the sister of a schoolmate of ours. She said her upper thighs had gashes in them from the dashboard but otherwise looked okay. Randi graciously kept smacking the mosquitoes on Garvin’s legs while his defenseless hands and arms were holding me partially out the car. It is so weird how I remember such strange details this many years later.
The Paramedics arrived and all I can remember from that is hearing the loud screeching machine sound of the Jaws of Life right next to me. I was told later that the medics had to cut the driver side door completely off and cut the dashboard and steering column out in order to get me out. I was still in my seatbelt and my body was pinned. Once I was removed the medics realized that without cutting out the steering column there would have only been six inches between the seat and steering wheel.
I don’t remember the ride in the ambulance or getting to the hospital. I don’t remember much of the emergency room or getting x-rays either. I do remember some of the waiting time before surgery. I rarely ate breakfast back in high school but my luck would have it that that morning I did eat breakfast. I was also waiting for two trauma surgeons to arrive; an oral surgeon and an orthopedic surgeon. Palms West seemed to have an inadequate trauma unit but wasn’t stingy with the Demerol. I was in pain but it was now tolerable. Various family members came by but I can’t remember who specifically. I do remember ‘Uncle’ Monty. Mr. Montesino, my band director, left school after hearing about my accident and came to the hospital. Mom, Dad and Randi stayed with me. Garvin was there for some time. He had no injuries and Randi was wearing her seatbelt and ended up with only a small scratch on her left leg. If I hadn’t jerked the wheel to the right she would have received the same impact as I. Her worst injury was the shock of seeing my condition and that injury I wish on no one.
I had a broken jaw from my head being thrown forward and the right side of my jaw smacking the steering wheel. My jaw was fractured where it had hit the wheel and was shoved to the left and dislocated. I also had a dislocated ankle with a fractured tibia and the talus was broken into three pieces. My ankle injury is considered to be the worst kind usually occurring in car accidents victims and football players. The lesser of my problems was the extensive bruising in the chest from the steering wheel and the seatbelt which had kept the wheel from crushing my sternum or throwing me out of the car. The seatbelt saved my life. I learned my lesson after the first accident.
Crystal’s injuries were not so extensive. The cuts on her upper thighs didn’t penetrate any major arteries or muscle. They didn’t even bleed much since she had so much fat cushioning her legs. She had one fractured bone in her right foot and a fractured ankle both of which would only require six weeks of healing in a cast. I say ‘only’ because after surgery I faced six weeks of my jaw wired shut and possibly up to six months of a non weight bearing cast up to my knee.
The dangers of driving on the dirt roads my parents warned me about came true in every sense of their word. I spent a week in the hospital after six hours of surgery to place two screws and a pin in my left ankle, and a plate was screwed into my jaw under my chin as well as wired shut. The hospital stay was typically terrible being loaded full of morphine, a catheter, and intravenous needles that were never inserted properly. My arm actually swelled up twice its size before the idiot nurse on duty decided that the I.V fluid wasn’t getting through my body. This same nurse yelled at me and told me to stop being a baby because I was crying after several needle stabs in my arms and hands because the bitch was failing to find a large enough vein.
The positives I remember were my friends, teachers and family members visiting but especially Mom who was there most of the time making sure that the every-five-minute morphine pump was activated even while I slept. She didn’t want me to wake in a lot of pain. Like a mom, she took good care of me. She helplessly cried with me when the pain was unbearable. She also protected me from unwanted visitors and got rid of the bitch nurse.
I wore the cast for five and a half months and my jaw was wired shut for six weeks. Not being able to eat was awful for the whole family as well as it was for me. Having my jaw wired shut didn’t stop my mouth from bitching and spewing out foul language regarding hunger and pain. I grew very tired with those nasty tasting canned Ensure Plus drinks and sucking in Jell-O. Toward the last few weeks, I ripped a few rubber bands and wires out of my mouth to make room for some creamy mashed potatoes. Ironically, I still love mashed potatoes. My jaw was unwired in time to be able to crutch out to the football field during half-time and play my clarinet solo for the last game. It was a bittersweet moment.
Though I was charged for the accident for being on the “wrong side of the road;” I didn’t receive any tickets or fines. Crystal received several tickets however, for speeding, not wearing a seat belt, having no license, no insurance, no registration and no license plate. She wasn’t wearing a seatbelt because it wouldn’t go around her 400 pound body mass. She was speeding at 50 MPH, 20 over the limit. According to officers my speed got up to 40 so it was like the two of us hitting a brick wall at ninety miles per hour! I was speeding too but she shouldn’t have been on the road at all. Despite the two witnesses in my car including myself and a number of witness accounts to Crystal’s small pickup not having working headlights in the past she wasn’t fined for driving an ill-equipped vehicle. The damage to her vehicle hid that fact in her favor. Anyone would have seen her lights even over a car driving down the middle of the road. What irony, considering I would not have attempted to pass the white car if I saw the headlights of another car in the distance!
Of course, because of the accident, my parents found out about Garvin sneaking in through my bedroom window. They also put two and two together and realized that it most likely wasn’t the first time. I don’t remember any form of punishment for that. I suppose my parents felt that I was being punished enough. Though Mom knew I was sexually active with Garvin and on the pill I suspect if I had asked if he could spend the night the answer would have been ‘no.’
I had traveled 1,400 miles from Milwaukee to home for the weekend of my sister’s wedding shower and Bachelorette festivities. My flight arrived on Friday evening and Mom picked me up at the airport. We drove the approximate twenty miles west toward home utilizing the time in the car to catch up and talk about details concerning Randi’s wedding, which was coming up in five weeks. Upon arriving I put my things inside then we immediately went to the next door neighbors’ house for a birthday party where Dad was already waiting for Mom and me. After a while Mom decided to go back to the house and go to bed. Dad and I stayed a few hours longer; him drinking beer, me drinking wine, and both of us partaking in the joint that was passed around a large bon fire. We were both pretty lit up and tired so we were ready to go.
After saying goodbye to everyone, we heading back to the house. Dad went to the bedroom where Mom was already tucked in and I headed to what used to be my sister’s bedroom. Lying there after fifteen minutes I noticed the front porch light was still on. The light was shining brightly into the bedroom and my parents’ bedroom since both rooms had a window that overlooked the front porch. I was tired and debated whether or not I should get up and ask my parents about the light. I assumed they didn’t want the light on all night but neither of them wanted to get up to turn it off.
I got up slowly, came out of the bedroom, stumbled down the short hallway and through the kitchen, and then stood just outside my parents’ closed bedroom door. I was hoping at least one of them was still awake. I decided to ask the question instead of turning the light off on an assumption. I hesitated without disguise in a somewhat chuckling stutter in my inebriated state, “Uh, do you want this porch light on?”
Most likely after much debating as to who was going to crawl out of bed to turn off the light, Mom and Dad both immediately and unanimously responded with a resounding “NO!” and in the most gratifying tone.
I laughed “Whoa, in stereo!”
I heard them chuckle as I went back to bed.
In the Barn
-A childhood memoir excerpt
I grew up in a small town called Loxahatchee about twenty miles west of the Palm Beach coast in south Florida. My family lived on 5 ¼ acres with a large pond and a barn my dad had built. Instead of neighbors our place was surrounded by cypress trees, wetlands, dirt roads and an abundance of wildlife like mockingbirds, rattlesnakes, tree frogs, squirrels, raccoons and the occasional alligator that stumbled in during the rainy summer season. There were only a few other houses on our road at the time and a few on the adjacent road behind our property. In one of those houses lived a family who had a sixteen year old mentally retarded son. When I was a little girl of eight years the retarded boy sometimes came over to play with me and my five year old sister.
One particular Saturday or could’ve been Sunday afternoon the boy and I walked into the barn tiptoeing amongst my dad’s old lawnmowers, various small engines and things when the boy said he wanted to have sex with me. I didn’t understand what that meant then stopped and turned in question. Without hesitation the boy forcefully slid his hand down my shorts and panties pushing what felt like his middle finger between my legs. I stood frightened with my back against one of my dad’s work benches suddenly realizing I was trapped between it, the lawnmowers and the boy.
I squirmed in discomfort jerking myself away from his hand and asked him what he was doing. The boy’s hand found its way back as he pushed his finger inside me and quickly unzipped his jeans with his other hand. He panted while pulling his daunting organ out of his pants then grabbing and stroking it. He thrust his appendage against my belly as it protruded and grew bigger and harder. He pleaded and insisted on putting himself inside where his finger painfully jabbed. I kept nodding in disbelief while the boy aggressively pried himself down into my panties and past his own persistent finger. I said “No, it won’t fit there.” and he replied “Oh, you’re big enough.”
At that moment we both noticed my dad approaching the barn. The boy stopped and zipped up his jeans quickly. I adjusted my shorts and felt a sudden rush of shame and fear as my father would see my face after parts of my body that I didn’t know existed were invaded.
The entire incident probably occurred over a short span of five minutes but it seemed like an eternity to my eight year old innocent mind. It is difficult to remember what story was concocted to explain our reason for being amongst my dad’s tools and engines. I do remember trying to get out of the barn and away from the boy and my dad as quickly as possible. While walking away and toward the house I recall a sensation on my back as if I was being watched intensely; by either the boy or my dad I’m don’t know.
Other members of my family have been violated in this manner as well and their experiences were more horrific and occurred more often than my own. It only happened to me that once, I think; in the barn.
blog comments powered by Disqus