Prince Of Darkness

 

“You must open your eyes in order to see.” JSM

-Day Two-

During the final trimester of pregnancy, (in some cases, much sooner) the family typically settles into a nesting phase. The nursery is painted and decorated. The diapers, pacifiers, snuggies, receiving blankets and wipies are stocked under the changing table, and tiny clothing sets are tucked away and organized neatly inside small wooden drawers. The room is disinfected, floors cleaned and vacuumed, windows smudge free and wooden sills dusted.

Cupboards may have cans of formula at the ready if breastfeeding is out of the question. Cases of baby food have been purchased ahead of time and all the knick knacks and stuffed animals are distributed among the child’s soon-to-be room.

By the time the baby arrives, the family is ready to rock and roll. Preparedness.

The videos are watched. The Lamaze classes are done. The books on how to be a parent now have their own location on the bookshelf. A rocking chair sits in a corner with a multicolored crocheted blanket draped over the back; a thoughtful gift from Grandma made with her own bare hands, provided at the baby shower earlier in the week.

As ready as can be.

Nesting is important. It’s a mindset.

Not only does the home require preparedness, but the mind does as well. “I’m about to become a parent. I’ll be responsible for the complete safety and health of another human being.”

Mistakes are made. We go through a spell of feeling like a “bad parent” and not doing well by our child(ren). Feelings of hopelessness, doubt, anger. It’s impossible to foresee all potential complications being a parent. Regardless, we try our best to be our best for the kiddo(s).

That’s all that can be done.

The night of the second day at the safe-house I designed my own nest. Everything I owned revolved around the work laptop.

Imagine if you will, being inside your house and all you own sits in a corner of one room. A five foot square section of the floor. The rest of the home is empty. Barren. Only echoes of every noise generated from that spot travel the halls and stairs and bounce around the walls inside. No art. No dishes. Nothing in the fridge or cupboards.

That was my nest. The back corner of the living room. Roughly twenty feet from the glass door which led to the driveway within vicinity of the only internet connection in the neighborhood. My laptop sat on the floor with a wired printer connected at its side. A pile of clothes were stacked against the wall, beside me two piles of paperback novels, and my figurines and trinkets circled around my tiny space. Nearby I kept a two drawer filing cabinet stuffed with kids drawings I had tucked away over the years, important paperwork, pictures and Polaroids from my childhood, a black box, and framed work certificates. Clamped to the side of the cabinet, a bendable desk-lamp.

After my outburst the night before, I tended to three minor gashes along the top of my hand, and knuckles, and with poor lighting, fixing the wounds was a sloppy task. Before the car was handed over to my care it was supplied with a fire extinguisher road side flares and a stocked first aid kit for emergencies. I dove into the kit, pulled out supplies in a panicked huff as I rushed back inside.

The lights throughout the home were dulled. A dim yellow that made the eyes squint and blink. Each of the lighting covers were stained with time, dust and cobweb covered, and piled dead insects rimmed around the insides.

The hall light had burned out long ago and the kitchen was restricted to one flickering fluorescent bulb above the sink.

I’d be better off doing this in the car.

The cuts now covered and wrapped, I retreated to what I believed was immediate safety. My corner of the known universe.

In the second drawer of the filing cabinet I remembered some work equipment, and among the stapler, hole puncher and a variety of pens and highlighters, I retrieved a small lamp I kept attached to my desk in the old life, for my night work. I clamped it to the cabinet, clicked it on, and a bright white beam illuminated my small space. The breadth of the beam seemed to circle my area perfectly.

I pulled myself from the floor, flicked off the living room light and smiled at the lit up area from afar. My first real smile in over a week.

Ain’t that something. My own little world.  A damaged prince of darkness with no throne to inherit, and nothing to his name.

When tired, I pivoted to align with the wall and adjusted myself from cross legged to flat on my back. When I awoke the following night, I’d sit up like Dracula from his coffin and return to sitting before the computer. That was my routine for a time. I existed during the night and slept away the day. Reverting back to a normal schedule was an eventual challenge.

The one variable that probably added fuel to the ever growing fire, was the fact I worked from home. Not only was the night spent alone, but each day as well. Sun up to sun down. When I wasn’t sleeping, or having the kids over for a visit, I was alone, everyday; for quite awhile. That was reality.

I didn’t leave the house unless I needed supplies. Most of my food was delivered from local pizza joints. Only one building worth walking to was in proximity, but the bar scene has never been my thing. That, and I did NOT desire to associate with strangers. Best to avoid potential further incidents. Especially with others I’ve never met. I was a short fuse at the top of a massive powder keg.

I chose to stay. I believed at the time safety came first and foremost.

Knowing my luck, I’d leave, walk the road and get hit by a bus. Best to say put. Safer that way… for everyone.

Still unsure of when the kids would arrive, there I remained. Surfing the internet, re-reading my favorite novels, and chatting with Shelby. On the sixth day, I snapped.

I revert to a previous installment when I discuss the Cosmic Joke. Punishment for doing nothing wrong. Wrongfully accused prisoners most go out of their mind with mental anguish. I couldn’t imagine the suffering.

I may have become a prisoner of my own making, but I had the opportunity to leave anytime I wished. The cell door was always wide open and beckoned with open arms. I chose to remain in my cell. My trust issues with the world conquered all my thoughts and manipulated my state of mind. I was so tired with the way reality operated around me, the only way to escape it all was to hide and attempt to ignore it. I transformed into my own worst enemy.

Returning to work was an obstacle all in it’s own, and a hurdle I desired not to jump. Work would force me to interact with humans again. The idea of being physically present anywhere, brought back the waves of nausea. I arranged an emergency leave of absence for another week and continued my festering.

On the sixth day of isolation, gifts were presented to my door. A thin black futon couch that folded down into a bed, one blanket and a pillow. I set the lightweight futon along the wall, folded it down, and draped my body across it.

As thankful as I was for the gift, it was like resting on a waffle iron. Lumpy, bumpy and stiff. I returned to the new found comfort of the hard, flat floor, folded the blanket under me for a sitting cushion and placed the pillow behind my head for leaning against the wall. The computer returned to my lap.

The sixth night, my youngest arrived for a sleepover. I had a situation comedy playing on the laptop for background noise and we had a pleasant visit. She slept on the futon and I crashed beside her on the floor.

Cheek resting on my hands, I stared under the futon in the dark searching for the meaning of life. Eyes wide open and locked onto the wall my subconscious whispered It’s here somewhere. Above me, my child snored with contentment.

This can’t be it. Is this it? Is this the way it’s supposed to be? It can’t be. I can’t be destined to live this kind of life. This is not… the way… it’s supposed… to be!

I pulled myself from the floor and ripped open the door to the outside hating the world and cursing my situation. I kicked the side of the house with my barefoot (my toe is still numb to this day) and dropped my eyes to the ground. I forced my lungs to breathe, curled my toes in the grass, placed my hands on my hips and closed my eyes.

You need balance. 

No kidding.

You’ve been nothing but a good guy. How to find balance?

Become the bad guy… Become a villain. Nice guys should not finish last. Embrace evil and perhaps you’ll find center.

I lowered my arms in defeat and raised my eyes to the side of the house. The noise in my head made perfect sense.

Become something you are not. That will tip the scales in favor. Just try it… what’s the worst that can happen?

LASH OUT!

It’s safe to say I never transformed into Meg Griffin, (thankfully) but I listened to my darker side, embraced the negative I didn’t know existed, and changed some rules.

I opened a can of worms that should’ve remained buried and untouched. A Pandora’s Box I couldn’t close. I was way in over my head.

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Absence of Light

 

“Within damage, desolation and destitution, will you find peace.” JSM

Day One

I had water, electricity and illumination at the safe-house but my inner light had vanished. I was a meandering corpse with a heartbeat.

After my time in slumber, for the full day’s stretch, I awoke with a startling jolt at nine at night and couldn’t remember where I was. The barren walls, cream colored ceiling and hard wooden floor swam around my periphery, and for a brief second, the temporary amnesia was soothing and washed away all the bad.

Then it came back like a flood. A bursting dam of reality that ripped away my moment of peace and I dropped my face into my palms sobbing like a child.

Get it together.  Breathebreathebreathebreathebreathe.

Day one. New life.

I opened my flip phone and dialed work, “Sorry so late, boss (sniff). I may need some personal time for a few days. Yes…Yes. No, I’ll get through it. I’ll be back on Monday.” When I heard the click through the receiver on the other end, I clenched my jaw and chucked the open phone with a sidearm pitch into the empty brick fireplace; watching as the device shattered into pieces.

For about twenty minutes thereafter, I cursed myself for destroying company property and depriving myself of a solid method of communication. Staring at the pieces, sitting cross legged at the hearth trying to make the phone operate again, to no avail.

WiFi won’t be here for another week. You IDIOT!

My bloodshot eyes opened wide in a moment of panic, I retrieved my laptop, turned it on, slow paced around the downstairs and waited for the internet connections around the neighborhood to appear in the corner of my screen.

Nothing?  Come on.  There’s houses nearby. Find something!

Three locked locations and one open connection with a weak signal, popped into view.

Better than nothing.

Then I couldn’t move. I was frozen to the floor mid-stride when the signal disappeared as I approached the center of the empty room. I retreated back a few paces towards the wall and the signal reconnected.

I lowered the computer to the floor at that hot spot in the house, as though I was placing a newborn into a cradle, and dropped slow to my knees. The signal increased by a singular bar and the connection held firm. I breathed a sigh of relief and opened the link.

My first internet visit was the bank. Had to see what the funds looked like. Payday was a few days away and other than the kids coming over in the unknown near future, I had an extra mouth to feed. Shelby slept on the wooden floor in the corner as I typed in my password.

Eight dollars and twelve cents.

Cutting it close, pal.

I logged out, scooted across the floor on all fours, pulled a piece of paper from my small printer and scrambled for a pen.

Along the top of the sheet I scribbled: Dog. Kids. You. Bills. Shelby now, the kids on payday.

Something told me to get the criteria down on paper and force an immediate list of priorities. Something tangible to focus on. I told myself it was necessary. Knowing if I didn’t create the reminders then and there, I wouldn’t care if I eventually forgot.

Feed your dog.

One of the perks of working where I work is I have access to a company car. In the early days of my employment, I traveled around the state for various meetings, training and seminars. It was suggested that I be allowed a car through the company to maintain my work related tasks and I have had access to it ever since. I don’t own my own vehicle. I haven’t in many years.

As a side effect, I’m limited to travel. I can’t pack up the company car and drive to New York for a family getaway. It’s used primarily for work. I try never to abuse the privilege that was bestowed to me so long ago.

Nancy on the other hand recently picked up a jeep, and says it’s mine (God love her)… but in reality, I don’t have my own wheels. And that’s just fine.

I invited Shelby along for the ride and we departed for dinner.

She ate well that night. I was able to purchase enough chow for her to last till payday. I, however, ate nothing. I couldn’t. Zero appetite, no motivation. A complete lack of any will or strength to do anything for myself. I hadn’t showered in three days. (Is it four now? Time slips away when you stop paying attention) I hadn’t eaten for three days at least. My face covered with stubble and dark bags under the eyes.

I kept my attention on the dog and watched her gobble down her generic, bland, dry food from the convenience store.

I sipped coffee from a Styrofoam cup at ten pm and pondered the second day of confinement. Just sleep it away. Stop drinking coffee. Go back to sleep. No. Not right now.

I stumbled to the kitchen, and felt a rise of discomfort in my lower belly. Please don’t get sick. No, no, no. Uh oh… 

I bolted for the bathroom, dropped my head into the toilet and whatever was in there, came out. Dry heave after dry heave after dry heave.

Once the dark crimson drained from my face, my breathing normalized and the tears wiped away I removed my trembling frame from the tiles, reached for the shower and flipped the lever.

On shaking unsteady legs, using the sink for help, I pulled myself to standing. I raised my eyes to the mirror, saw a collage of faces swirling through the shower mist and I can’t be sure why I reacted the way I did. I am not a violent person.

I thrust my knuckles forward as hard as I could and placed them at the center of the foggy mirror.

I think that may have been my first real punch. Of course, not ever having punched anything out of anger before, in my life, the mirror didn’t break right away. I had to connect with the glass three times before I was satisfied.

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Truth

 

“Here, it all begins. This place, this feeling, this life. A clean slate.” JSM

Chapter Thirty One

Lies

The Cosmic Egg.

A creation story shared by multiple cultures and ancient civilizations. The origin of the universe described as emerging from an egg and life beginning after its hatching. From nothing, comes everything. The stories span from Greece to China, deeply rooted among many cultures in between, and beyond.

Egyptian tales tell a story of Ra and the deity being encased in an egg. Vedic mythology speaks of a great egg floating through emptiness, then one day splitting into Heaven and Earth. The details are scattered and vary culture to culture, yet a plethora of ancient tales tell of the cosmic egg. An emergence of everything from within the absence of everything.

Once upon a time before time, something was drifting in an infinite black void and split in two, releasing all we know. A different civilization may share the story of an egg being placed on newly created earth by a great bird, then hatching once the bird returned to flight.

Depictions of the origin of the universe, detailed as being oval shaped, slightly pointed at one end and wider at the other are carved in stone, drawn on parchments and spoken of in religious text.

Typically in ancient times, if it’s carved in stone or shaped from rock, it’s meant to last.

These locations, vastly spread across the ancient world, saw the egg as a literal origin story. “This is how it all happened.”

I went the route of symbolic. Sure… I get the literal interpretation and have enjoyed my exploration of these beliefs and while I respect the stories, I feel as though a personal symbolism approach is more fitting.

Not unlike the tales of antiquity where everything came from a singular point within nothing, and all is then shaped and formed into existence, I believe an individual has the same ability. Albeit on a smaller scale.

Through some of this tale, I speak about a “safe-house” and collapsing to its floor once I breached the building. A large multi-room, vacant, two story home sitting on the fringes of the town I escaped. I needed to remain in the school district and it was mandatory that I stay close, but not too close. My kids still needed their dad. After a time of grieving inside the empty shell of a house, I slept almost twenty four hours straight.

One of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my adult life is kiss my children, wipe their tear soaked faces and while faking a smile, tell them I have to leave.

However, I ensured them I’d be close by.

With a duffel bag slung over one shoulder and a backpack hanging from the other I entered the safe-house and breathed in the musty air of my new digs. A prearranged location where I could go if ever needed. Contingency plans should always be in order.

The details leading me to this new place will not be spoken about. You’re welcome.

The ones who know, are the ones who need to know. The devils are in the details and I keep those little bastards close to my chest.

Those events that brought me to the new home were the beginnings to my emergence from my own personal cosmic egg. For thirty years I imprisoned my body, heart and soul inside a thin shell which was thick and strong enough to keep me blind, yet unbeknownst to my knowledge at the time, fragile enough to break through. My issue, was knowing when to push through the shell and fully emerge. I hadn’t even seen a crack yet.

New foreign territory. A new towering mountain to climb with barely any support.

Completely alone, other than a few family members and a couple of trustworthy close friends, I tackled it solo. I had to. I had no choice. Some learn the hardest of ways that each choice made, has potentially unforeseen circumstances. Regardless of the fact you’re convinced you’re doing the right thing.

I was alone. A lot.

I had the dog, my few personal belongings, work equipment and nothing around me but the swirling sounds of deafening silence.

No furniture. No TV. No chair. Some items arrived over time, but from the initial moment I stepped inside, everything I owned was on my person, and Shelby panting and confused stood close by me attached to her leash.

The first personal lesson I was forced to endure was finding the ability to drown out the unending noises bouncing around the brain.

Impossible. The mind plays cruel and heartless tricks on the subconscious. It makes you see what you want to see and forces you to witness that which you refuse. It makes you hear what you think you want to hear and as the conversations escalate and spiral into violence and madness, then comes the screaming. An unrelenting continuous wail of a tortured soul. Conjured larger than life visages of the imagination played out like movies on an endless loop of misery, and the theater screen is within the darkness behind sealed eyes.

You wish it to end. You tell yourself it’s all in your head, yet the evil realm of the mind says otherwise.

No. It’s time to suffer.

Tears dripping into the cracks of the wooden floor, my knees curled to my chest in the fetal position and trapped in a mental prison of my own creation, I had a fleeting thought, if you went back in time, what would you change?

Nothing. This is the new beginning. In the beginning was you and this house. It all starts here.

Before passing out from exhaustion, eyes red and puffy,taking an inventory of all my trinkets and books I had a conversation with myself out loud; focusing my voice towards the dog.

“At this point, all you know is wrong. It was all an illusion. What do you need to do right now?”

“Survive.”

“Let’s start with truth. What is the truth?”

“All you know is wrong. So… there is no truth.” I snatched up a Raymond Feist novel and thumbed through the pages. “The only actual real truth is that everyone lies. Everyone lies or has lied to you. You were lied to, by everyone. Everyone lies…”

Everyone lies…

Then I truly allowed my mind to go and wander. My thoughts traveled at warp speed and I searched my memories for each lie and deceitful act against me over the course of my history.

I knew I’ve wronged others in my past, but always felt as though I’ve atoned for what I’ve done to others. I’ve apologized. I’ve returned favors and never took advantage of another human. Never trampled on the backs of others to accomplish my goals. I like to say that I take pride in doing onto others as I would want them to do unto me. The world around me, however, loves to lie. I thought even as far back as childhood when I heard the story of the Easter Bunny hiding chocolate eggs for kids to find.

Kids being lied to by their parents. Shame! In fact… friends, family, co-workers, significant others, spouse, community members, leaders, religious folk… my kids. My kids have lied to me!

I placed blame where blame belonged, screamed to the ceiling and created a singular truth. Only one thought was composed of absolute truth. Everything is a lie.

My origin story was formed, weaved and stitched together, on the basis that my life has been one colossal deception.

I made a snap decision to no longer associate with others. All done with the blindsides, deceit and backstabbing. You can’t get hurt if no one is around to hurt you.

Selfish and self absorbed? Absolutely.

When alone for the first time in thirty five years, you really don’t give a shit.

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The Beaten Path

 

“A journey may begin with the first step but in order to find journey’s end, one can never stop walking.” JSM

Chapter Thirty One

Foreign Territory

During my senior year in high school I was allowed respite from VoTech, and the mandatory studies, to attempt the accomplishment of a difficult task.

Myself and a varied collection of students were given the opportunity to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail. Transported south by bus, we were dropped off at a designated entry point along the mountain pass, and we walked the blazed trail until completion. The route would take us through three states.

The starting line was Irwin Tennessee and the finish line was north, in Damascus Virginia. The adventure was two grueling weeks.

My family was at the apex of a difficult time and my parents believed a “getaway” would help, and give me something else to do, far, far away from it all. Unfortunately, all the spots were filled for the sought after trip, and I was denied entry. Just a little too late. Some of my friends were going south and it was suggested I’d have a great adventure if I joined the gang.

Out of the blue, one of the sign-ups was forced to withdraw from participation, and between classes, I was approached and provided an offer.

“I can’t go. I want you to use my gear. I’ll bring it all with me tomorrow.”

I was supplied with a metal frame backpack, a purple bedroll, a portion of food and a sleeping bag. The generous offer saved some money and I was able to take the empty spot that afternoon.

The remaining space in the bag was reserved for minimal clothing, one extra pair of comfortable footwear, the bedroll, water purifiers and food. No amenities other than personal hygiene products and even they’re limited to small containers and travel sizes.

Thirty percent of the body weight is carried. Being a large guy, I carried seventy pounds. Anything more than seventy was considered a health risk. We packed one week ‘s worth of food for the first half of the trek and at the half way point, we resupplied our remaining food which was air mailed down and stored away in a bunker for our arrival.

The student’s withdrawal from the hike was last minute, and I had one week to fully prepare to become a hiker. Something I was not.

Not far from my old homestead is what might be considered a mountain, but it’s more akin to a large hill. The location is well known by families in the area and over the years had become a popular sliding spot during the winter season. In the spring and summer, it’s only a cow field. It was a quick trip by bike.

I’d fill the hiking backpack with seventy pounds of weight and run up and down that hill until I felt the pounding pulse of my heartbeat, deep within the canals of my ears. I’d push myself until collapsing, then roll on my back panting and wheezing, staring at the sky.  Why are you doing this? This is torture!

Crawling back up on legs made of noodles I’d go further and attempt to be faster. When not jogging, I’d lean into the hill, thumbs above the chest looped into the straps, and take long strides. Anything to get to the top.

Then I’d slow jog down the steepest face and start all over again from the bottom.

For six days, I bolted up and down that hill. For almost a week straight I felt as though I was preparing myself mentally and physically for the task ahead.

Standing at the archway that leads into the thick Tennessee woods, and the first leg of the journey, was a reality I couldn’t be sure I was ready to face. Two students opted out immediately and remained in the passenger van. The initial incline was at a steep pitch and the trail disappeared from sight in the distance around a corner.

The path went on and on, up into darkness, despite the sun hanging directly over us.

The physical and mental complications arrived later on, but it was steeling the mind initially to take the first step into unknown land, which was by far, the most daunting to overcome.

Either walk forward and get moving, or take the bus with the others to Virginia. You didn’t come all this way to stare at the ground. Now or never.

Every couple of miles off the beaten path the trail branched off, leading the hiker to a water source. Blue signs were attached to trees showing the entrance to a water trail and the choice was simple-stock up and purify, or wait until the next unknown stop. Sometimes hiking for water was a two mile excursion off the main route and added extra mileage to the overall day. Most days we walked for eight and upwards of ten miles, and I believe the final leg was a whopping thirteen.

Throw in an extra mile or two for water, and some didn’t arrive to camp until the sun vanished. Once day became night, the hiker becomes a potential target for any creature living in the woods. From bear to diamondback snake, mountain lions, spiders the size of your phone, and bats.

Sleeping outdoors in small one man tents.

The lean-to’s were a first come first serve prize at the end of each day. The small shelters built along the trail could fit up to eight walkers, mashed side by side, shoulder to shoulder, packed inside the elevated wooden hut like sardines. Unfortunately, we were among hundreds of hikers within the mountain, and in the two weeks I was on the trail, I slept in a lean to twice.

All we did was walk and talk.

Under the blazing sun, we hiked, one robotic foot in front of the other.When it rained, we walked despite the downpours.

The backpacks covered with a thin rain protector and despite the muddy rivulets flowing between the feet or startling bolts of electricity striking nearby, we walked the path before us.

One afternoon hail and heavy rain fell through the trees and we witnessed the destruction of a tornado cutting through the valley below. Each of us standing on the edge of a cliff, our packs hoisted up to create a makeshift barrier against falling ice, and watched the funnel carve its way through the trees in the distance.

At the absolute mercy of nature.

Despite the climb, I was witness to the beauty of that nature. I experienced things about myself that were transcendent and pure. When all  you know is stripped away from you and one is forced to adapt or fail, you discover hidden elements of self you never thought you had. I dug into my psyche and forced myself to complete the mission, no matter what.

Some areas were hand over hand climbing, almost ninety degrees up a wall, and stopping every few feet was necessary. Rocks protruded from the face of the range and some were large enough to sit and catch a breath.

The scenery, however, was breath taking.

It was poetry without words. An almost full panoramic view of rolling hills spattered with bright colors and the bluest of blue skies painted above. The clouds seemed low and cartoony, as if it was a figment of my imagination and not fully real. Low to the point where if I stood and stretched to the heavens, I could reach out and grab some and hold it in my hand.

Stunning and surreal.

Other places were more terrifying though, and not for the faint of heart. Not knowing fully what to expect, one can’t ever fully prepare for every journey.

Needless to say, my fear of heights is forever gone.

One stretch of the trail was a two foot wide path. The walking area had been carved into the side of a cliff face, creating a sheer wall of smooth stone above, and a straight wall thousands of feet down to the ant sized trees below.

This was the path connecting two points and walking it’s dangerous edge was mandatory to continue. If one of us decided to head back, it was twenty four miles to an access road where a phone could be located.

With the wall above and the wall below we were forced to traverse the narrow rock trail. Most of us hugged the wall and leaned all our weight away from the cliff’s edge, keeping our focus on the backpack ahead of us.

The wind was the worst.

At the end of the two week journey, when I finally opened the door at home, I slept for sixteen hours without waking.

Everything hurt.

I was sad it was over, but learned from the experience and was a better person because of it.

I climbed mountains and ventured into unknown territory. I kept to the priorities and maintained a structure. Eat, sleep, drink, push forward, rest when possible and don’t give up. I kept my focus on the path and never deviated from the mission. I never contemplated quitting, I pushed to be the best I could be, and earned some rewards along the way. I was able to see things and behold the majesty of the world around me for a short time, and I was able to conquer my fears and pursue the finish line.

I believed in myself and toiled through my problems.

When all was said and done, I rested.

When I opened the door to the safe-house over five years ago, dropping to my knees in the vacant empty building and opening my backpack to find a pillow, I lowered myself to the wooden floor and slept for twenty uninterrupted hours. I draped a jacket across my body for a blanket, propped my head up on a rolled sweatshirt, circled my area with books, work equipment, trinkets and memorabilia and slept like the dead.

The time had come to face a new mountain. A monstrosity of my own creation. Facing the enormity of Everest without any tools, rope, supplies or jacket. At the mercy of a new foe. Myself.

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Coma

 

 

“It’s safe to remove the blades. The back will heal.” JSM

Chapter Thirty

Sleep Walker

Eighteen years ago I fought against the idea of parenthood. I didn’t want to be a dad. Holding tight with both hands to the mindset that the biological father should do the parenting, not I. Being a daddy didn’t seem like the gig for me. Especially at my age.

When asked to do something involving the child, I shrugged it off and responded with snide comments and crossing my arms high on the chest, “Not my kid. Not my job. Not my problem.”

Then it hit me. Eight short little words uttered by a family member. My defiance had finally come to an abrupt halt.

“In for a penny, in for a pound.”

The simplicity of the statement changed my outlook on how I was conducting my life. It was time to step up to the plate, quit denying what I was supposed to do, place aside my selfish ways, and slide into the role regardless of my feelings on the matter.

Time to change.

I picked up the diaper bag and complied.

Sitting before the Judge on the day of her adoption, I’d be outright lying if I said I wasn’t scared. Each fingernail was chewed down to bleeding stumps. I shook with uncontrollable nerves and every wandering thought was contemplating the worst case scenario. What if the Judge says no?  What if the adoption is denied?  What then? My leg bounced under the table and my breathing was short and choppy.

You’ll just keep being dad without a piece of paper to prove it legally, right?

If that’s the case, then it’s a win-win situation. OK… Breathe, Jeremy, breathe.

The Judge’s bench seemed thirty feet tall. A thin towering podium where the silver haired man who determined my destiny sat above, staring down at me over the edge in silent contemplation. Wearing a black robe and an emotionless face.

“So, Mister Morang. What makes you think you should be her adoptive parent?  It says here, you’re working part time and attending school full time. Is this correct?”

Hands sweating and clasped atop the table, I cleared my throat once, “Yes, Your Honor. That’s correct.”

“Part time work doesn’t bring in a lot of money. Are you sure you can live up to the expectation? What makes you think you deserve this, and what can you tell me to convince me to place my approval on this paperwork.”

The first thing from my mouth may have seemed like a nail in my coffin, but it was the only thing I could muster at the moment. Nothing but pure honesty. “I’ve been doing this for nine years, Your Honor. She may have a different father, but I’m her Dad. The bills are paid, she’s healthy and fed. Protected, safe, clothed, housed, educated, happy…”

When he cut me off mid sentence, I swallowed hard and lowered my gaze to the tabletop.

“Need say no more, Mister Morang. Adoption approved. The paperwork will be mailed to you within the next seven business days and you’ll need to see the clerk on the way out. Have a nice day and congratulations. NEXT!” A crack of the gavel and life continued.

When my second daughter was born, she was treated (as a preventative measure) for a sickness which can be passed from the mother to child if not caught in time, and the regiment lasted seven days. If I wasn’t at work, I was in the hospital room with her. I slept on a second bed nearby with my newborn child comfortably resting on my chest and for seven days I didn’t fully sleep.

With a newborn baby, the parent rarely sleeps.

After the treatment was completed and we were able to return home, I woke up every hour on the hour for a number of months; terrified of the S.I.D.S condition. I’d creep into her room, hover my hand over her mouth and wait for her breath on my skin. I’d gently place my fingers on her chest and feel it rise and fall before returning to my bed for another solid hour of rest. I didn’t breathe until she did. I set an internal alarm and it never deactivated.

The routine became so rhythmic and predictable, I lost time. All that existed was day and night. I walked in a foggy haze, oblivious to my surroundings. I answered questions with short one word replies. A zombie, but not undead. I had blinders on which only allowed me to focus on life tasks and chores. Those things which are deemed important and essential. When one becomes a parent, each and every priority is child related. Sleep is destroyed. Eating is incremental and in short spurts.When not bustling and going half mad with anxiety, you’re resting in a nearby chair gathering your faculties and shaking off the exhaustion. Trying desperately not to get too comfortable.

As a parent, I’m accustomed to the emergency room and the hospital environment. I’ve been present at my second daughters birth and I’ve watched people pass on. I’ve spent time with my eldest daughter while she was struggling in an incubator. I’ve endured the cancer center, rushed a handful of humans to emergency help, and have seen things I wish I could erase from the archives of my memory. I’ve walked the long halls and had lengthy conversations with patients. I’ve heard stories, sat in the cafeteria with nurses and faculty and have shared experiences with total strangers. I’ve visited a few times for my own situations as well.

Sitting upright in my hospital bed, watching the nurse and doctor carve into my leg like a moist Thanksgiving day turkey, was the worst hospital experience of my life. And that includes the day my youngest was rushed in for emergency care.

I thought I was going to lose my leg.

*****

All I could feel was cold.

No pain from the knee down, only icy cold as the fluid poured down either side of my exposed leg and absorbed into the blankets beneath me.

The pencil eraser sized cut had been opened to the gaping size of a fifty cent piece. The nurse held and squeezed the saline bag into the gash, the nozzle pushed deep under the skin, while the doctor had his headlamp on beaming light into the pried open hole in my leg. With one hand he moved the flesh around exposing the red tinted bone underneath, and with the other hand he scraped away red fragments from the meat with a scalpel. The nurse pushed the fluid inside and the doctor guided the debris out with the necessary tools. I watched the entire procedure.

Each time Carol crushed the saline bag, my leg grew in size. The cleaning liquid filled the open areas under the skin then drained out the hole. Sometimes red fluid would pour out and soak into the bed, and other times the saline drain was clear and tint free.

“The tricky part is distinguishing what’s blood and what’s broken down paint fragments. That’s why we use so much saline.”

Three bags later, I was stitched up and declared safe. No work restrictions and back to business as usual.

It was during the second bag, however, when my mind began to race.

So trivial, yet so lethal. Hey, if it’s in the bone somewhere, the leg is gone buddy-boy. Is this the right thing for you? Do you want to end up like some of your co-workers?

No.

I thought on my peers and recalled each individual and what they’ve endured in the industry over time: A permanent limp. Missing fingers. Hearing problems. Sight issues. Back surgery. Standard complications that require daily medicine.

Maybe it’s time to have that conversation again. School might be the solution. Time to guide your own destiny. Now the ball can be in your court. Think it through. You don’t want that kind of life for the rest of it, do you?

Then I thought on Bill and the day he asked me the same question, “Do you want to stay working in steel? Is this something you see yourself doing in five years?”

Not anymore.

“BizarroTech is always open, Jeremy. Give me a call when you’re ready.”

My windows of opportunity have been brief, random, and seemingly right on schedule. When I started my college experience, I was still employed at the mill. Not long into my first semester, a friend asked if I’d be interested in helping him at a recreational facility doing odd jobs and mechanical work.

 “Why, yes I would. When do I start?”

After a two week notice, and a brief adjustment period, the mill was then history and a new chapter of life was instituted.

A chapter I don’t recall well. What I do remember is cloudy and sporadic. I lapsed into a proverbial coma and didn’t wake from it until 2011.

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Emergency

 

“Life moves too fast. Time to slow things down.” JSM

Chapter Twenty Nine

Steel Trap

This is a “T” Beam. It serves a variety of purposes in the steel industry.

If a series of T Beams are placed side by side, (upside down with the flat part on the ground) placing each individual beam three feet apart from one another, structural steel can then be placed across them length wise.

Typically, the T’s I worked with at the mill, were twenty feet in length.

Configuring the steel in this fashion, placing and spacing them like railroad ties, created a “beam bed” of sorts. A place to keep heavy steel elevated, off the ground, and at knee height.

Heavy steel can rust if not covered and protected with special paint. Sometimes structural steel is subjected to the harsh unpredictable elements; piled in neat stacks outdoors, waiting to be delivered to their designated work site. In the event the fabricated steel needed to be outside, it requires a protective layer of paint. In the mill I was employed at we had what we named, the Paint Bay.

An open space within the building with a large ventilation system built into the wall. Each piece of steel we worked with varied from small parts that fit in the hand, to fifty foot long dangerous heavy beams. Some weighing many tons and transported into the painting room by crane.

The sprayer was connected to a compressor and with the squeeze of a trigger, crimson paint ejected from a nozzle in a wide spray. Not unlike many tools used to paint a home, an outside deck, or a car.

When I was first released from the mill I had a position creating stairs and hand railings. Constructing material needed for handicap ramps and winding multi floor staircases in office buildings. We had contracts for hospitals, schools, businesses and local projects. The experience was educational and forced me to think.

But most of all, I enjoyed visualizing and creating a usable and important product.

The contracts dried out. I was let go.

When I returned to the mill I was given an ultimatum. Similar to the print shop basement, the exception being, I hadn’t even seen the door yet. My situation was determined over the phone before even walking through the door and reentering the steel industry.

My equipment allowance stays the same. Benefits remain the same. A dollar an hour pay cut, ten hours less per week, no overtime options, flipping beams in the Paint Bay, or nothing at all. Take it or leave it.

Readjust, move some things around, think it through, budget…

“You’ve got a deal, boss. See you tomorrow.”

I was just happy to have employment again and be reintegrated with a familiar crew.

The work however, was less than satisfying.

A beam enters the bay, lowered by a crane device, and placed along the bed. One side is then coated with thick red paint from end to end leaving no area untouched. The crane operator rolls the beam over, returns it to the bed, and the underside is finished. The crane takes the product away either to be stored, or loaded on a truck.

It had it’s fair share of danger. Paint jammed up in the nozzle once and created a pressurized back spray, coating the side of my face. The only method of removal was an industrial strength paint thinner/cleaner that felt like liquid fire. Making gasoline or other paint thinners on the skin feel like a soothing moisturizer.

The cleaner left the cheek raw and red, sore and tender to the touch. The skin around the eyes swell and the whites become bloodshot. But hey… at least the paint is gone.

During the busy times we became adept and quick on the feet. We could maneuver around the Paint Bay with ease if we walked across the edges of the T Beams and hop from one side of the steel to the other. Attempting a balancing act wearing steel toe work boots.

Walking along the T’s was considered dangerous and frowned upon, but never really enforced.

Guiding a beam to the bed one afternoon, I stepped up onto a T beam and started my walk across the edges towards the center.

Lost my focus for half a second, missed the step, and was flailing in open air as my body kept moving forward and down to the paint crusted beams.

Over time, paint build-up creates miniaturized stalagmites across the tops of the T shaped steel. Pointed daggers of solidified paint. We barely notice as we’re usually walking over them and crushing them flat.

Falling across the surface of the bed my last resort was to thrust out my hand to lessen the impact.  My body crashed along the top, my palm hit the ground and bent it backwards wrenching my wrist. My hardhat was thrown from my head, the wind was knocked from my chest and my co-worker was right at my side to rescue me and get me in a better position.

I was escorted to the central office to file an accident report.

I tripped, slipped and fell.  Report filed.

That evening my wrist was screaming for a doctor to fix it. I couldn’t wiggle my fingers. My thumb swelled and wouldn’t move, and still in my work clothes, I was brought to the emergency room.

“On a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst, rate how your hand feels.”

I clutched the wrist with my good hand and held it above my heart to ease the throbbing, “Nine, I guess.”

She gave it a gentle squeeze in random locations, testing my threshold of pain, half grinning at my winces and jotted her notes on the paperwork. “Seems to be a nasty sprain. We’ll do an x-ray and maybe see about an air cast. You’ll probably get a couple days off. Any other injuries sustained in the fall?”

I reached to my shin and poked my finger through a small incision sliced through my work pants. I had a Band-aid covering a cut on my leg. “I landed on a jagged paint chip and it cut through my pants. It’s tiny,” I lifted the bandage, revealed the pencil eraser sized wound, and her eyes opened wide,  “Just my wrist really. Should I take some Tylenol for the pain?”

The woman jumped to her feet, grabbed a nearby phone from a wall jack and bellowed into the receiver, “I need a gurney in nurse station, number two, stat! We have an emergency! Clear the back room!”

What… in… the… world?

“Now, Jeremy,” She lowered her face to mine, “I need you to be calm and relaxed.  Take deep breaths.”

What are you talking about?

A gurney was wheeled to the nurses station. With the help of an orderly and a second nurse, I was hoisted on the gurney and rushed to a back room. I didn’t even have a limp. I could very well have used my own two feet.

A doctor walked beside me flashing his pesky light in my eye, breathing in my face, “How long ago, nurse?”

She flipped through my chart, “Accident report filed at two this afternoon. Arrived twenty minutes ago.”

“Changes to vitals?”

“None. Blood pressure is a little high. But that can be contributed to the wrist injury.”

My head turned side to side, listening to each one rattle off their replies, and I interrupted, “Yeah. My wrist hurts like hell and its why I’m here. Can someone tell me what’s going on?”

The doctor grabbed my wrist and looked to his watch. “Nurse, I need a full saline and a local numbing agent. Get him to room three at once.”

Are you sure you have the right guy? Can I see my chart please?

I lowered myself into room three’s inclined bed and sat in patience while waiting for someone to return. The medical staff seemed to abandon me in a far corner of the emergency room and I felt clammy and nervous while awaiting their arrival.

The nurse returned with a pair of scissors, hacked through my pants cuff and brought the slicing blades straight up my leg, tearing the material to my upper thigh. She splayed open the fabric, pulled the bandage from my skin and exited the room again.  When she returned a few minutes later, the doctor walked in slow behind her.

“Holy cow, doctor. Can you please fill me in on the big secret?  What’s happening?” I ran my fingers through my hair and down my face.

He came to stand beside me, “The good news is, you showed Carol the cut. If you hadn’t said anything, there would be no chance.”

“No chance for what?”

“The wound sits on top of the shin bone. If it was paint that punched through the skin, there’s a good chance it may get into the bone and a number of things could then happen. If they’re any fragments or residual debris in the wound, we could be looking at blood poisoning, or infections.”

The nurse jammed a needle in my leg to numb it. After feeling the warm sting of the liquid entering my calf, I looked away from the injection and the doctor finished.

“If we don’t get it all out of there right now… you could lose your leg.”

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The Devil You Know

 

“Stop falling on your sword. It’s getting dull.” JSM

Chapter Twenty Eight

Sleeping in the Rain

Fire is my friend.

Of all the elements, it’s the one I can control.

I can start a fire with flint and steel. I taught myself to build flames in the pouring rain. At gatherings, I’m the one asked to make a campfire and keep it alive. I enjoy it’s creation when times get tough, I treat it like an art form, and I seem to revert to a caveman mentality.

I’ve been known to sit and stare for hours, keeping a constant vigil, letting the fire simmer and dwindle, then raising it to the sky in an explosion of sparks and heat. As long as I have access to burnable material, I can control fire. Call it a side hobby.

It’s also therapeutic. Meditative. Hypnotic. It allows a place to think, ponder regret, reflect on the past and dwell on mistakes. The outside world disappears and all that exists is dancing flickers of pointy colored light.

It’s a go-to-place. I seek the solace of fire.

Watching my portfolio and three years of life curl up in the flames, fall to the coals in charred fragments and transforming to ash within the raging inferno, was an instant moment of regret and sadness. The heat now too intense to reach in and retrieve what I foolishly discarded in a fit of anger.

All I could do is question my motives and wonder why.

*****

Are you out of your mind?

I just might be.

“Hey, you want something to drink?” My friend came to join me on the grass, sat a few feet to my left and handed me a bottle of soda.

I wiped a forming tear and thanked him.

Smiling at the tall flame he pulled his knees to his chest, “You can crash on the couch if you want.”

“Thanks.” I hurled a log into the pit and asked, “will gold melt in there?”

“Gold?”

“Yeah, I chucked my medals in. Along with everything else. Probably not real gold anyways.”

“I guess it depends on how hot it gets. Medals?”

“The graphic arts competition.”

“Yeah, yeah,” He nodded and looked to his slippers, “That’s right. Probably wasn’t the smartest move.”

“No kidding. What’s done is done.”

“You want company, or do you want to be alone?”

“It’s your property. You can stay if you want. This is all I’m doing.”

We sat and conversed for an hour before he decided to go back inside. He was the first to hear the story on the events that brought me to his backyard, my termination from a dream job, and the idiotic reasoning behind the temper tantrum and the fiery purge of my accomplishments.

He seemed to agree with my plight and the explanation of my actions, but stated outright I could have chosen a different method to cope with the situation.

And with those obvious few words of wisdom, accompanied with a tender sympathetic pat on the shoulder, I was once again alone with my thoughts.

I glanced behind me and watched the lights in his home flick off one by one, and when the upstairs became dark, it started to rain.

Great.  Just what I need.

Over the next two hours, I watched the flames vanish until it was nothing more than a large bed of sizzling coals. I allowed the rain to conquer my creation, watching and hearing the hiss of cool water on red hot debris and fatigue overwhelmed me.

You have to sleep.

I’m not moving.  I’m staying here.

Don’t be a moron. Go home.

Nah… this looks good enough for now.

I placed my head on my backpack and tried to use it for a pillow.  The belts, buckles and straps made for an uncomfortable and lumpy resting spot, so instead, I gutted out it’s contents and stuffed my head inside it. A built in rain protector. I lowered my covered head to the soaked earth, closed my eyes and listened to the patter of raindrops on the bag’s material.

There I stayed. Laying outside in the rain feeling sorry for myself. Obstinate and angry at the world. Defiant and locked into a mindset of self punishment. I felt slighted, embarrassed and torn on what to do next. My head covered with a black backpack.

Damn.  I haven’t even told the family yet.  That should be fun.

Once the sun made it’s presence known and the birds of the morning sang their songs around me, I felt myself floating on the tail end of a dream. My subconscious in a limbo state between the real world and the sleeping realm.

Before me standing at the edge of a tree line, an angelic being with long auburn hair, adorned in a flowing white robe. Before I ripped off the backpack from around my head and lurched into a sitting position I heard a voice while in the limbo state. A whisper from the back of my mind, “Her name is Saara.  She is the queen of Heaven.”

What the hell?

It was a moment before I realized where I was. I shook away the visage and the cobwebs and blinked out the floating image from my memory.

I gathered my rain soaked material, stood up, and stretched the aching muscles. My clothes clung to me like a heavy second skin.

Today is a new day, and you have nowhere to go. What to do, what to do.

Oh yeah. Go home first. Discussions are needed and you need to get dry clothing.

… shit.

I dragged my feet back to the homestead and found an empty house. The only thing noticed out of the ordinary, was a handwritten note on the kitchen table.

“Steel mill called. They want to talk to you.”

Fate is a funny thing. It happens when it’s least expected. Fate takes many forms. Sometimes it’s staring you right in the face and obvious. Other times, it’s subtle and secretive.

As fate would have it, I started my new position at the steel mill the very next day. The layoffs had been lifted.

Instead of seeking something elsewhere, I stuck with the devil I knew and understood. I know steel. It’s better than starting over completely from scratch. I needed to make the money.

Saara would have to wait.

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