Brokenhearted

 

“Anything broken can be fixed. Although, sometimes it’s better in disrepair.” JSM

Chapter Twenty Five

Lost

During the brief time between graduation and the print shop, I never found solid roots in any employment offered. I started at the Summer Printing Program, moved to Friendly’s, then left the restaurant for a grocery store.  I was terminated from the store and found a sandwich shop which I helped manage for two years.  Things got crazy in the sandwich industry and I quit.

Shortly thereafter, I assisted a friend with a garbage truck and piled trash for a period of time. I picked up a position as a bottle clerk and tossed empty cans for a stint before landing at the steel mill which I invested five years of life.

After the layoff from the mill, I juggled a few miscellaneous odd jobs before finding home within the walls of a print shop.

At a gas station is where I spoke with the owner. It just so happened we knew each other, but not well acquainted. He was tall, had a dark goatee streaked with gray, matching the hair on his head, and I didn’t recognize him with his sunglasses on.

“Hey.  You’re Jeremy, right?”

“Yes, sir. Good to see you again.  Been a couple years.”

“I talked to your old instructor a few months ago and he said he had no clue what you were doing now.  Are you still in the business?”

“No.  Haven’t found anything in the area. Well… one… but it’s quite a haul from home.”

He placed his items on the floor so we could chat, “You knew we’re moving the old building to Vikery Street, right?”

“Are you still working in law?”

“No.  That’s the point. I’m getting into graphics work now.  Give me a few weeks to finish settling in and I’ll call you.  I’ve opened a print shop and the copiers are on their way. It’s a growing business and I couldn’t resist. I only have to get the remainder of the staff to the new location, set up shop, get some training done and I think I may have the right spot for you.  If you don’t hear from me in two months at the latest, call this number.” He handed me a card and pointed to an office line.

“Hey, that’s great, Kurt.  I’d love a chance to be on the team. That sounds awesome.  Do you work with any presses?”

“Two as a matter of fact, but not like the ones you’re used to. They’re already set up and running.  We picked up a contract with a state department and we change new data and information as the details trickle through to us. It looks as though we’ll be picking up more within the next few months, but the presses are run by seasoned operators.  We’ll mostly be doing design work locally, and running high-speed copiers.  That’s where the money is.”

Bummer.  

I nodded my agreement. “That makes sense. I look forward to talking again, Kurt. Thanks a lot.”

He paid for his items and smiled to me, “Next time we talk, I’ll be your boss.”

Good enough.

We shook hands and parted ways.  Three weeks later he called me and we set everything up, and the senior staff placed me in a work station that suited my experience. I received a decent evaluation after one month of service and an increase in wages.

Which led to this point in the tale.

*****

What the… Oh no.  Oh no! Oh nononononononono.  What is this?  Where did it go? Refresh.  Home screen. Click, drag. Open, open, open. Where are you? Is it in here?  No.  Here? You gotta be kidding me.  Be cool, be cool.  Don’t lose it.  It has to be here somewhere.

You’re a dead man.

I glance to my co-worker, “Uh… Lewis?  I may need your help.”

My immediate supervisor had his face inches from his terminal, squinting at magnified details on the screen and had to clear his throat before replying. “What is it?”

“I can’t seem to find File 005.  I was just in there a second ago and now it’s gone.”

He kept his focus on the computer and his back to me, “It just doesn’t disappear.  Did you look in the directory?”

“Yes, and the trash and the home file and opened other folders to see if it was dumped elsewhere by accident.  I can’t find it.”

“Move.”  He pushed away from the terminal and rolled his chair across the small room to replace me at my spot. Lewis looked in all the same places, applied the same searches, ran the same troubleshooting techniques and leaned back in his seat. He pushed out a sigh between pursed lips and shook his head. “Hold on, let me try this really quick.” He hit a series of buttons, crossed his arms and looked to me, “Yeah.  This isn’t good.  There’s like… a million bucks worth of contracts in 005. What did you do?”

My hands raised and my eyes opened wide, “I have no idea. Can we call support?”

“No choice.  It has to be found. Kurt will lose his mind if we can’t get it back. What did you do?”

Four hours later it was determined that whatever I did was permanent.  File 005 had vanished from my computer.  No shred of it’s remains could be recovered from the hard drive. As though it never existed in the first place.

However, it was real.

I used 005 often through my work week so I know it wasn’t a figment of my imagination. 005 was indeed a real file.

I knew it was a real file, because the owner was pulled away from his family fishing trip to address the issue.

He arrived during the third hour of tech support; watching two technicians plugging and connecting machines together to find what it was I lost. Searching feverishly for any scraps of data.

The owner paced throughout the factory; arms crossed with his gaze to the floor. Kurt was devastated and I could tell he was sick with nerves every time I looked his way. At times a quivering hand would rub his stomach as if he was attacked with a wave of nausea. He’d look to the roof overhead and whisper a series of words then disappear around the corner to sit in the office with the door closed.

All I could do is wait.  Watching the staff dart their eyes my way, whispering to one another from their individual office spaces. They could’ve been discussing work, responsibilities and daily duties, but my gut told me I was the topic of conversation. I couldn’t handle the stress any longer and I slinked out the side door to pace around the backyard.

After a few minutes of alone time, one of my co-workers poked her head around the corner and asked, “Are you alright?”

“I don’t know.  I feel like I was punched right in the stomach.”

Now more comfortable she approached me and lit a cigarette. “It’ll be fine. They’ll find it.”

“That sounds good,” I sat on the surface of a picnic table and dropped my feet on the sitting bench, “but what if they can’t?”

“Well, my guess is they’ll recover the data elsewhere.  Contact the department and reissue the old files. Maybe start it over again. We can fix it. Anything can be fixed.”

She put my mind at ease for a moment. Everything can be fixed. It sounded good in theory.

What’s the worst thing that can happen? Oh yeah… you’ll get fired.  That’s what.

No.  They won’t let me go.  He sought ME out, not the other way around.

She dropped the smoldering mentholated filter in the sand filled bucket beside us and smiled, “Let’s go back inside and see what’s up.”

I walked slow beside her, my hands stuffed deep in pockets, and within the factory and surrounding office spaces the tension in the air seemed to vanish. The employees were bustling across the floor, carrying products, pointing to documents, nodding agreements while detailing designs.

As though nothing happened.

When the owner exited his office, followed by his senior staff and two technicians, the blood drained from my face and my heart thumped and fluttered in my chest. He stopped at the center of the room, pressed a number on a phone connecting him to a loudspeaker for downstairs employees and bellowed, “Everyone out!  Take lunch or whatever break you haven’t had yet! I want this building empty in thirty seconds!”

I turned my back, weaved into the crowd to follow suit, blending in with my head hung low like everyone else, but when I heard in a lowered tone, “Everyone but you, Jeremy,” I felt the oppressive overbearing sensation of suddenly weighing two thousand pounds. Both legs morphed into concrete pillars and my back arched pulling my attention to the colored tiles between my feet. All my energy drained, my shoulders slumped and the inside of my mouth turned into a barren desert. I had the inability to pull my hands from the pockets of my slacks, and I was unable to pick my head up to address the senior staff to look them in the eyes. Lewis was the last to walk by and he patted my lower back with sympathetic taps on his way out the door.

The factory foreman spoke first, “Let’s go downstairs and have a talk.”

Yup.  You’re a dead man.

>>Thank you for continuing along this journey with me.  Please subscribe, like, share or leave a comment and I’ll see you at the next one.

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Victorious

 

 

“Despite what you may have heard, I am not crazy.” JSM

Chapter Twenty Four

Standing Tall

Last chapter I briefly mentioned choosing the path of least resistance. Finding an easy route to navigate through life. Why make it difficult when alternatives can suffice?

Sophomore year of high school wasn’t any different. Every possible method short of ditching and skipping out was tried on my end. My desire to finish high school ranked at the top of personal necessity.

Once I’m released from this nightmare, life will be better.  Just get through it as fast as possible. What ever it takes.

If something can’t be explained to me in a method that makes sense, I won’t have the capacity to understand it. Plain and simple. If the answer is akin to, “This is the way it is, and it’s right because it’s right, and the answer is accurate because… reasons… and I can’t explain the why, accept the facts as facts.”

I won’t get it. I’ll only have more questions.

Therefore, math was my Achilles’ heel.

The instructors couldn’t drill it into my brain. They’d sigh and frown, shake their head reeking of exasperation, pacing around the room, rolling eyes and loosening ties.

“Look,” He’d lean across my desk and drop a shaking finger on the equation in question. “Carry this over. Deduct blah blah blah, multiply the square route and additional math terminology, and solve for x-y-z, etc.”

“But… why?”

“Because.  That’s the way it’s done.”

“Just because that’s the way it’s done, doesn’t make me understand why, Mister Strictmath. Can you explain why the equation is broken down this way, to provide the answer? Don’t show me how to go through the motions to solve it, show me why it’s done this way. Educate me. Please?”

Whether the instructor was incapable of finding a way to force my understanding of it, or I outright refused to absorb the knowledge provided, either way, I still have yet to use any of what was taught to me in school, in the subject of high school math. I have yet to find a need to solve for X or Y, or incorporate the number Pi into anything.

Since misery loves company I luckily wasn’t alone. I was among a handful of students who struggled in this area. On my second attempt in algebra (first attempt, Freshman year, failed miserably) the teacher graded me on a curve so he wouldn’t have to deal with me and my ignorance for a third time.

Thank you, Mister Strictmath. You are a blessing in disguise.

Then he was stuck with me for geometry my Junior year. I remember saluting him with a smile on my lips as I sauntered through his door on the first day back from summer vacation.  He crossed his arms and chuckled, “Well, Jeremy. We meet again.”

Back in the day (can’t believe I can say that now) graduation requirements involved at least two years of math and four years of English, plus everything else. I plowed through my history classes, science, “shop” and whittled down the criteria to the bare necessities.

Because I managed to get through science fairly unscathed, was not a reason or an invitation to pursue higher science in any capacity, such as physics. No thanks.

The mandatory subjects were completed and my Junior year consisted of geometry, a fine arts course, and English. My Senior year,the only primary requirement for graduation was high school English.

It was the glorious morning, entering the wide spacious area of my fine arts class, where ultimately I found my first love.

I had a passion so fierce it can’t be explained. All my thoughts, attention, unwavering focus and utter devotion centered around one thing.

In 1993 it was called, Graphic Arts.

Today, it may have the name, Graphic Communications.

My friends and I had a ball in that class. We silk screened tee shirts with fake logos, which we thought up from scratch. Created business cards and school fliers.  Helped with the yearbook, sketched fun comics, animated flip books, and designed invitations for school functions; such as prom and sporting events. Our imagination was the topic of discussion for the entire class each and every day, and the results thereof.

After some time in that classroom I was provided the option to attend a nearby vocational school for the remainder of my time in prison. Attendance at VoTech would provide extra credits towards graduation and look good on future transcripts.

Whatever it takes.

I found some freedom at the new school.  Everyone at vocational found a subject they could focus on exclusively and were able to commit to their subject of interest. Auto-body, metal work, wood working, law enforcement, nursing.

That’s where I met her.

Janet.

An ABD 360, offset, multi color printing press.  I was familiar with Janet’s sister, Heidelberg and enjoyed her company and capabilities, but Janet consumed me.

I knew her inside and out.  Every gear, chain, cog, pulley and belt. Every sound she made was memorized, and I could anticipate impending issues and troubleshoot in real time. I could tear one down to the floor into little pieces, rebuild it, and make it run better than it was before.

Before everything transformed to computer software, super fast photocopying and high tech devices, printing a product from a press involved multiple steps.

Photography was first, making intricate adjustments to aperture and shutter speeds as needed. Developing the negative in a darkroom.  Manipulating clip art on a computer screen to suit our needs; cutting and pasting (with scissors and glue) and designing a template.

Then, through a series of intense lighting and developing the solid image onto transparent plastic, we could then utilize magnifiers to zoom in on pixels, dust spots, rough edges and problem areas and scrape away black, extraneous material with sharpened tools. The picture  on the plastic is then “burned” onto a thin metal plate and washed with a series of chemicals.

The thin plate is then stretched around a metal drum on the printing press, ink is applied on rollers and drawn into the machine through a series of smaller drums and controlled pressure, the ink sticks to the image on the plate, a sheet of paper is guided onto a conveyor belt, shoots under the metal plate and the ink transfers the image to paper.

(whew)

As long as the ink and paper is consistently fed into the machine when needed, the press will print non stop until the time the metal plate stretches, breaks down, and deteriorates.

Janet was my baby.

My instructor spoke with a school committee to have me compete in a regional competition. To this day I don’t know if he knew what my battle would entail, and did what he did as a favor, but I agreed and trusted the man and signed right up. My only advanced knowledge– I’d be starting at the design phase and produce X number of flawless finished products.

The judges would review the end product from each of the competitors and declare a winner based on a lengthy checklist of details.

It was the strangest battle I’ve been in, and I’ve been in some tough scrapes.

I ran unopposed, as there were no other local signups. No schools in the area wanted to participate in that specific subject.

I worked a quick small job at my own speed, just to say I did it, and the committee granted me a gold medal by default.

Even if the end product was garbage, I’d still win. Ha ha ha.

Goody goody for me, everyone.  Yeah… Look what I did.

It’s sad and pathetic, but the win allowed an opportunity to compete at the state level. I was automatically provided a chance to battle against all the schools in the state, technical, high school and other vocational institutions. Some competitors working at a college level.

I was terrified. From zero opposition to battling it out with eleven diverse students I’ve never met.

I had no idea what to expect when I stepped off the bus at the hotel that Saturday morning. The events of that weekend was my first ever competition.

My instructor guaranteed he’d attend and watch each event and he hovered as close to the sidelines as possible; cheering me on in his own quiet way. He was a hell of a guy.

The weekend was sectioned into blocks of time.  The finished product was expected on Sunday and the award/dinner ceremony for all competitors lasted through Sunday evening.

I had flawless marks in all categories. A perfect design.  The perfect negative, transparency and plate, and rumor had it a CEO of a large local print shop was in attendance scouting out college students.

Sunday morning I slapped the plate on the drum, worked the ink into the machine, stacked my paper, went through the motions with switch flipping, dial turning and lever pushing, and ran some test sheets to find my ink balance.

I had twenty minutes to complete the job.

If memory serves, we needed to produce fifteen perfect sheets.

The issue with time is the perfection of the product. The test sheets are the most vital to the process. Once a test sheet spits out the other side it’s checked to unsure the image is centered, blemish free and the ink is flawless.  The first sheet spells out any adjustments that may need to be applied to the machine. Shifting the plate, decreasing drum pressure.

The actions that burn up time.

Not until the test sheet shows perfection can the worker feel comfortable allowing the machine to run at full force.

The judges made a bunch of excuses as to why the machine failed seven minutes in, but my competition ended as quick as it started. The rest of the students continued on with their battle and time stopped dead for me.

My instructor came to my work station and the judges gathered around my machine.

One judge lowered his voice, “It’s been beaten up pretty bad this past week.”

My instructor spoke back, “Can you grant him extra time?  Have him start over on an available machine?  When someone else is done?”

“No, no. All competitors compete within the allotted time.”

I looked to a corner where an unused, slightly broken printing press sat collecting dust and glanced to my instructor, “Can I use that one instead?  I’ll use parts from one and fix the other.”  I looked to the clock, “please, I can finish in time if you let me fire that one up.”

The judges looked to my teacher and he half shrugged, “if he says he can do it, then let’s see if he can.”

I lost two minutes while chatting.

I cannibalized parts from one press and created a workable machine and when ‘thirty seconds remaining’ was yelled out from the bystanders, my last sheet came out and it was almost flawless.  One border along an edge had a hair width line partially out of place.

I was granted a gold medal that afternoon. Deemed the best in the state. The judges couldn’t believe I was able to fix it mechanically, run my tests from scratch, and produce a finished product in the time remaining.

I was on top of the world.

My Senior year was devoted to an hour of English in the morning and the rest of my day hanging out with Janet.

After graduation, I worked with a small group of students through the summer, at VoTech, and we made some money working small jobs for local businesses. Fliers, tri-fold brochures, business cards, and three of us designed and printed statistic booklets for a sporting goods store. We called it the Summer Printing Program. My actual first paying job.

I had a diverse portfolio, two gold medals and credentials. My name and picture in the newspaper. I sought and researched employment in local print shops that operated with high end models and expensive gadgets.

I eventually landed a position at a printing shop and after my orientation phase, I was placed with another gentleman in a computer and designing station. The presses were housed in the basement and it was an elitist position.

Based on my findings, the only way to run a printing press around these parts is to wait for someone to quit, get fired or die.

One month later, while manipulating  and working on a preexisting template stored inside a folder on a desktop computer, I accidentally destroyed (as in gone, not retrievable, disappeared into the aether, could not be recovered by IT services, destroyed) over one million dollars worth of company files.

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The Root of All Evil

 

“It’s easier to ride the ride, than fight the tide.” JSM

Chapter Twenty Three

Back and Forth and Back Again

While hammering through my first degree program at the local university, I worked part time as a mechanic at a recreational facility.

Bowling, arcade, late night light and laser show events (with a DJ and a fog machine), killer sound system, indoor restaurant, party nights and functions with two full bars. One of the greatest benefits of employment as a mechanic there, was the ability to focus on my studies (with permission) in my own little work space during down time. It was perfect. Job priorities first–study and read when not working and catering to an issue.

Not a problem.

One day, out of nowhere, something hit me while passing by a common room off the main hall at the college.

Moving between classes, I stopped at an entryway and overheard cross conversation among other students.  The hairs on my arms prickled up and a shiver shot from my lower back straight into my neck.

The bulk of the talk was centered on job possibilities after graduation. Who was doing what, where, who is furthering and continuing their education, internships, starting own business, and so on.

The level of excitement was high and the enthusiasm was obvious to everyone in the room. While casually listening to their dialogue, I found the nearest chair and lowered myself in it.

What hit me wasn’t jealousy or envy of any kind, I wasn’t even that curious or interested in what they had to say.

I felt overwhelming waves of confusion. Dizzying and gut spinning. As though I was struck with a sudden bout of dehydration. I forced myself to sit down before I fell into the wall.

By default I have always chosen the path of least resistance. I attempt to find the easiest route through a problem. I cut corners. I seek and attempt to apply common sense. If I can’t do something or figure it out, I find someone who perhaps can, before I make matters worse. If money needs to be spent to solve the issue, so be it.

My dislike for math is over the top. I mean… over… the… top.  I avoid it like the plague.

Not long after being handed a termination slip at the steel mill, someone planted a seed in my head on the idea of attending college, and how awesome an experience it is.

Money in loans, pay off debt, pay ahead the bills, potential grants.

Hmm.  That could be the way to go.

Therefore, as I’ve also been a follower for a good portion of my life and have always considered myself a “yes” man, I joined the college experience, through a suggestion, and chose English Lit based solely on the fact that the math requirements were minimal.

I know right?  Idiot… 

At the time, I never thought it through to completion.

Sitting in that chair in the common room, I waited for the dizzy to dissipate and once it did, I was finally able to compose myself.  I then had a good heart to heart chat with my alter ego.

What are you doing?

You were told college was a good idea.

Is it?

What are your options in all this?

Think about it.  English Lit… What do you want to do with that?  Write?  Teach? Traveling journalist?

When you put it that way, I don’t really know.

Can’t do the latter that’s for sure, can’t leave the family… So what’s it gonna be?

Out of the conjured possibilities, it seems this is a huge waste of time and energy.  Maybe it’s time for a degree change.  Sleep on it.

Soon thereafter, I switched from English Literature to Mental Health and Human Services. Transferred all my credits, moved some things around, and started from scratch. A family member had received a degree in mental health and was working a great job with amazing benefits.

I’ll follow that path.  See where it goes. 

After finding out I was about to be a father for a second time, it was suggested that I leave my education, drop it completely, and find a way to snatch up a full time working gig. The money needs to flow. I asked my boss if I could get more hours and it wasn’t in the cards.

I quit school and found full time employment within a handful of days.

Almost a full year invested in English Literature and two semesters in Human Services, flushed right down the crapper.

I snagged a job installing office furniture.  Decent money setting up new buildings, and replacing worn out equipment.  Two of us driving all over the state constructing work desks and petition walls. Slapping together swivel chairs with lumbar supports and piecing together conference rooms.

We spent a month on the coast preparing a technical college with brand new desks, chairs, student equipment and various other needed chores. Loaded up the box truck early in the morning and returned in the evening.  An entire university all to ourselves with a coastal view from every window.  Lunch breaks wherever we chose.

My co-worker didn’t have a licence, and as such, I was the primary driver; classified as an installer in training.

After each location was completed for the day, we’d return to the warehouse and rearrange the orders for the up-coming deliveries.  Using the unlimited overtime opportunities to rake in as much as possible.

Because… ya know.  Give someone a chance to make a bunch of money, no questions asked? Who says no, right?

It’s safe to say we probably “milked the clock” a little here and there, but the upside was the fact we were never micromanaged. No unexpected visits from the boss.  No phone calls asking about progress. Trust bestowed upon me with nothing other than the words, “I don’t care what it takes, get the job done.”

“You got it boss.”

As I labored through my day, I felt a sense of accomplishment.  A good honest days work.

In actuality though, the overtime felt like I was ripping off the company. It was great for a span of time.

Here’s the conundrum. You become accustomed to your environment.  Leaning on a broom, chatting about movies, TV shows, moving a crate to a different location and then moving it back ten minutes later… and getting paid for it, feels normal after a time. You become numb to the idea that it’s no longer honest. You get used to it.

Like so many other things in life. Numb to it all.

Just as long as the cash pours in, life can move forward.

Regardless, a small itch in the back of my mind continued to warn me that what I was doing wasn’t right. I’d always find a way to fight it off.

No, Jere.  It’s OK.  This is normal.

But it doesn’t feel right.

This is the way things are done around here.  Go with the flow.  Listen to your superior. Take the cash and run with it. It’s a gift.  You deserve it. Come on… It’s easier to ride the ride, than fight the tide.

No.  Leave early… this one time.

I turn to my superior, “Hey man, I’m going to take off and call it a day.  See you tomorrow.”

He grabs my hand before I can punch my time card, “Wait, wait.  The boss said he wants the attic swept out and last years equipment stored upstairs. A full stock rotation.  Come on.  Snatch up another hour with me.”

“… Alright.  What’s another hour?”

I shrug my shoulders, force a smile, and return to “work”.

When the attic job could be done at any time, I’d give in and stay anyway. The devil on my shoulder always shot the angel square in the face.

From that point forward I felt like a pawn in someone else’s giant game of chess. My decisions and opinions were irrelevant in every nook and cranny of my universe.  My feelings on specific issues were ignored and shrugged off. As though I was remote controlled by an outside force. I couldn’t say no. I was embroiled in other people’s lives, and my life stopped being my own.

Life is more than merely existing.  Life needs to be lived.

I forgot what it was like to live and feel as though I’m still healing. Incrementally waking up from a decade long coma.

And all of it is my own damn fault.

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Stormy Skies

 

“Step one–Never change. The moment you change is the moment you stop being you.” JSM

Chapter Twenty Two

 The Deep Freeze

In January of 1998 my state was crippled by an ice storm.  In fact it’s named, “The Ice Storm of 98.”  A variety of YouTube videos can be watched if interested and it has it’s own Wiki page .

Four million without power across many states including portions of Canada, and the damages were in the billions of dollars.  The National Guard was sent to assist. Seven hundred thousand Mainers without electricity. Thirty five people were killed, most by hypothermia. Cascade effects of transmission towers collapsing from the weight of accruing ice, falling into one another like dominoes. Grids had to be rebuilt from the ground up. In some places power was non existent for weeks and months.

So much devastation.

Like a nuclear shock wave plowed across the state, and everything froze solid in it’s wake. Declared a state of emergency by Governor King and I remember the day the President of the United States took a helicopter tour to view the damage himself.

Trees that didn’t break bowed low and fused at their bases. Thankful to be alive but defeated and trapped in an icy tomb. Millions of trees brought to the ground.

Hundred year old pines toppled across main roads, blocking travel; power lines snapped free from their poles, merged with the frozen earth.  No phone.  No electricity. No way to communicate with anyone, anywhere.

Driving resulted in accidents. The ice piled up faster than could be melted. Salting, sanding and plow trucks were useless. Cars pulled to the side of the road and abandoned. A layer of sand was applied to a slippery street and the falling freezing drizzle coated over it as though it was never deposited. Then a layer of snow.  Then more raining ice.

A race that couldn’t be won.

The cleanup took weeks. At it’s end, three to five inches of solid ice and snow blanketed my beautiful state and unless the sun was breaking through the clouds and spreading its melting warmth around us, there we remained.  Trapped in ice. Normal life came to a standing halt.

We’d wake from a dead sleep in the middle of the night to the sounds of cracking, splintering, or falling trees in the distance and all around surrounding properties. No one slept on their second floor. Always a lingering concern. At times, with the snapping sounds echoing through the silent night, it seemed as though Godzilla was walking around outside.

My community rallied together and helped those in need.  Those with generators invited others to join in a meal, or play a game; providing locations to keep infants warm and safe. Those with chainsaws cleared debris.

Some folks were able to sleep with their children snuggled close, wrapped up tight in a sleeping bag in the comfort of a stranger’s warm home.

Food was delivered to those in need.  The elderly were helped.  People made friends with one another. The teens of the neighborhood would chip and chisel inches thick ice away from stairs, basement bulkheads and walkways, going door to door asking if they could provide help in some fashion.

The schools were closed.  Gas stations were shut down.  Businesses empty and work cancelled indefinitely. Grocery and convenience stores devoid of needed items. Banks restricted to paper and pen for money transactions. Thankfully, the local library remained open.

Smack dab in the middle of chaos

It was surreal. Like being trapped in a frozen wasteland.

Once the main roads were open again for travel and danger levels were lowered, a group of us drove around town and for the most part we were speechless. Emergency crews carved paths through the widespread debris, using saws to hack away thick trunks of uprooted trees; sections wide enough to allow a car through, and to the gang of us we felt as though we were cruising through a war zone.

An experience I’ll never forget.

I was one of the lucky ones though.  The landlord of the apartment I was residing at allowed a brief spurt of electricity twice a day. But that was it. He fired up the generator mostly for maintenance reasons.

During the worst of it, folks huddled in rooms with candles lit and do-it-yourself heating contraptions and tried to make the most of a bad situation. Wandering around outside during the early days of the storm was considered dangerous so friends and families grouped together in familiar homes to “ride it out”.

Unless I was asked to do something specific,  I sat in my small bedroom.

Alone.

Intentional isolation. My own personal igloo.

I can deal with the cold quite well.  It’s oppressive thick humidity and scalding heat that makes me uncomfortable.

Something inside my mind instructed me to stay put and work on a project.

Having  candles, multiple blankets, a hat, scarf and gloves, an oil lantern, surrounded by my hobbies and interests, made it easy to withdraw to a place of isolation and run rampant with my imagination.

My friends had to drag me out of the house. During two weeks of uncertainty and not knowing when life will return to normal, I found the time to be me.

When the wheels of life spun once again, the walls of my room looked like a disorganized map created by an obsessed and overtired detective searching for clues; connecting suspects to their ring leader.

Paper taped and tacked displayed across each wall, connecting edge to edge. Three sheets covered my TV screen and the door was wallpapered with rough sketches. Lines drawn to other papers halfway across the room. Disproportionate maps with varying boxes highlighting important locations and nameless structures. Circles around stick figures and organized lists. Lines of triangles indicating a mountain range bordering a misshapen oval, which my mind conjured up to be large body of water.

I’m not an artist. Easy to admit. My skills are limited to stick figures and basic geometrical shapes. I try to add detail to my drawings but I can never make it come together from what I envision in my head. I envy anyone with any artistic ability.

During the ice storm, for two weeks straight: I ate, slept, finished chores, read books and doodled in a sketch pad.

I had absolutely no idea what I was creating, but there it was.  In shoddy detail staring at me from each wall and corner.

A year later that universe disappeared from memory and the “Light Switch” flipped me into robot mode. And there it stayed.

I became a parent and reality changed. The imagination vanished and all those sketches were filed away in a box and stuffed deep into a closet. Literally and metaphorically. Priorities kicked into overdrive, robotic routines were instituted and a new journey began.

From that moment forward, within a ten mile radius between the backwoods of my hometown to our state’s capital, I’ve lived in thirteen homes. I’ve attended college twice for three different degree programs, and if my math is correct, I’ve held seven wildly varying jobs and two of those job positions, during that time, were return employment.

It would be fourteen years before I could once again be “me”.  While I can say I was made to be a parent, parts of me slowly disappeared. I became accustomed to what I was supposed to do. The ability to do the things I wanted, were seemingly lost. I’d scramble for all that which was slowly vanishing from memory, but all focus and dedication was now exclusively on my daughter(s).

Sacrifice is scary and life can be pretty messed up sometimes. Funny how things work out.

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The Great Beyond

 

 

“Continue exploring. Never stop searching.” JSM

Chapter Twenty One

Trees of Knowledge (Cont.)

Turn around and walk away. Pretend you were never here. If dad finds out, you’re in trouble.

Heart racing and mind scrambling I jumped out of my skin when the thin wooden door creaked closed behind me. The contents of the room were an assault on my senses.

I whipped my head back to the walls and darted my eyes around the cramped space, attempting to take it all in as fast as possible.

Pictures and posters overlapped one another. A single bulb dangled from the center of the roof, dimly lighting the room with a dull white glow yet revealing bright and colorful tapestries splayed across the ceiling and wooden floor.  In the corner, a cassette player whispered music I didn’t recognize from the speakers mounted to the corners of the room. Books crammed spine to spine covered a shelf nailed to a wall, and below the makeshift bookcase was a derelict recliner.  The handholds of the old chair covered with duct tape, holes worn into the fabric and a frayed brown blanket was draped across the back cushion.

Trinkets and statues and figurines littered nooks and crannies in the available spaces. Watching me from their hidden spots. Some hand painted, pewter or carved from wood. They sat on low shelves and end tables made from scrap materials, and tucked inside what appeared to be a milk-crate resting on the floor was a tightly packed assortment of LP records. Across the room from the crate, was the record player.

My parents owned a record player.  I was allowed to use it and listen to what we had on hand. Growing up, our collection was mostly gospel music, but I could lay on my parents bed and listen if I wished.

While my curiosity guided my every move at this point, I didn’t play any records in the black shack.

I pushed the milk-crate back into it’s cubbyhole and turned my attention to the walls again.

Depictions of ancient Egyptian deities, golden temples in lush forests illuminated by the setting sun, and bizarre mythical creatures and carvings. Bright yellow chariots soaring above a great city. Dante’s Inferno. Hand sketched renderings of fantastical worlds and mystical locations. Science fiction magazines and comic books were scattered across a centralized table surrounded by incense burners and scented candles. Pictures and drawings of other realms and places that only exist in the mind. A black trunk beside the chair, housed a variety of Dungeons and Dragons material.

Astrology and numerology. Maps of the Milky Way and the planets. Buddha and Shiva. Led Zeppelin and Grateful Dead. Pink Floyd and psychedelic musical artwork covered every square inch of the room.

I was in a candy store.  I couldn’t get enough. The newness and intrigue of what I was being subjected to opened my mind and sparked adventure.

As if I was an observer in a new museum my eyes dragged across each piece of foreign artwork, up high to down low, all the musicians, paintings, and archaic illustrations, knick knacks, novelties, ancient maps from books stapled to the walls in random spots, and my young mind tried to make sense of it all.

Utterly fascinated.

I was once introduced by a member of the church to an author named, Frank E. Peretti.  A supernatural fiction author. The two books were titled, This Present Darkness, and it’s sequel, Piercing the Darkness.

The story of the realm of angels and demons fighting over humanity.

I read each book multiple times and was drawn deep into that story.  The idea of angels and evil demons flying above a person and battling it out. Invisible to those they’re trying to protect or destroy.

A human driving through a mountain pass drops his wallet on the floor of the car and while reaching for it, the demon gets the upper hand and the car veers towards the shoulder and certain death over the edge. As the angel fights back, sword clashing against sword, the demon backs off and the vehicle jerks back onto the road to continue on.

I loved it. My first favorite book series.

After scouring the inside of the black shack and leaving no stone unturned, I approached the door to leave hopefully unnoticed. Nestled within the corner to my left, hiding in shadows on a short table was a book with a marker sticking out of its center.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Hobbit.

I withdrew it from the surface as if it would crumble in my hands and turn to dust.

I’ve heard of this.  I think the library has it. I opened it to the first page.

That’s when the door ripped open and a tall man appeared, blocking the afternoon light from fighting it’s way inside.

He towered over me and bellowed in a thick, gruff voice, “What are you doing in here!!??”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,  I’m leaving.  Don’t tell mom, OK?” I dropped the book back on the table, looked to my feet and stuffed my hands in my pockets.

Totally busted.

The door closed behind him and a chuckle came out. “I’m just kidding, Jeremy, come on in, come on in.  Have a seat.”  He pointed to the recliner and dropped down to his haunches.

He withdrew the box holding the records and reached to the center of the pile. Eyes still soaking in my surroundings I continued browsing the room while he pulled out Ozzy Osbourne’s, The Ultimate Sin.

In all sincerity and honesty, it scared the crap out of me.  I’m laughing while typing this because I must have seemed like a fool with my reaction, but the cover was terrifying to this kid, who had never experienced something like it before.

Everything about it, based on my upbringing, screamed evil.

He saw my reaction, flipped it over out of sight, and placed it to the side. His hand raised as if to say, no, no, it’s OK.  I’ll get something else.  His face devoid of expression and his lips never moved.

His next pull was Stairway to Heaven.  Because of my approval of the title and artwork, I nodded my agreement and he half smiled his reply. He understood my train of thought.

Pushing from the floor, he gingerly removed the record from the sleeve and handed me the cover, “Yeah. I like this one.  You know something cool about these guys?”  He placed the LP on the turntable and flipped it on. “Some of their music talks about Tolkien’s characters and the world he created.”

“Like from the book?”

“Yeah.  Like from his books. Neat huh?”

While the record spun and played the songs he showed me a map of Middle Earth, talked about his experience with the author’s work, topics he and his friends discuss and we chatted about surface mythology, unique ideas, ancient religions and authors I’ve never heard of.  He explained the backgrounds and history of some of his collections and meanings behind some stories and art work. Most of his replies beginning with, “Some believe that… I’ve read in a book… I learned this in school…” Never saying what he observed or learned was true or false.  Only that he garnished some knowledge and attempted to express it in that way.

“I learned/read/researched/saw…”

Before I left, and he swore never to speak a word to the folks of my intrusion, I was unfortunately denied the borrowing of The Hobbit.

But I smiled and thanked him when he handed me a different novel in its place and told me it was a gift. Early in the summer of 1987 I was introduced to Stephen King’s, The Eyes of the Dragon. (I know he’s not reading this, but Mister King’s book was with me for years and years.  It never left my side.  Literally a part of me)

Having only moments earlier, a conversation about dragons in the ancient world, symbolism and alternate ideas and Tolkien’s dragon character, a nervous chill tingled through me while staring at the book’s cover.

I felt as though I was breaking some unorthodox rule. Treading on some seemingly forbidden territory. Will I get in trouble for reading this?

That book for me was like an iPhone for others.  You couldn’t pry it from my cold dead hands if you tried.

A whole new universe was opening up.  I was ready to explore that great beyond.

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