Mary Flyer

I loved flying kites when I was little… The way they bobbed and swayed upon invisible, tumultuous waves. The way they could be seen by friends, near and far, both close friends and formerly unknown folks, and silently call a gathering that would add to the fleet of flying vessels across the town. My mother made me my first kite, and since then, summers were spent waking up at the crack of dawn just to be the first to take to the skies.

I loved imagining myself sitting atop the fabric and sticks… Ah, the things I’d see. Lands as far as the eye can see. I’d wave to the pharaoh as he pets and feeds the Sphinx. I’d blow kisses to a love in Paris as she looked for me from the struts of the Eiffel Tower. I’d toss a paper airplane that would tap Big Ben, causing him to chime out of annoyance. A boomerang would pass close by my head, whistling in my ear… It must have been thrown by that Aussie and his pet kangaroo. The visions of a child are much clearer and more vivid than the ones constructed by those of us who forsook our childhood for the bitter draught of adolescence and adulthood.

One day, my kite, the “Mary Flyer” (every child would understand, but for you logical sots, imagine “Mary” means the same thing as “merry”), was twisting and turning and tangling and diving so sporadically that I could hardly maintain an ounce of control before it spilled over onto the ground like my milkshake. In a sudden gale, I lost any sense of control, and it crashed into the beckoning boughs of a tree. “This would never happen if only I could sit on top and steer it,” I’d grumble as I went to tell my da.

The next day, we came back to the tragic scene, finding my beloved in such a state of disrepair, I wondered I could ever retrieve it. My pride got the best of me and I decided I required it be taken down one way or another, else my friends would see it and disgracefully throw pebbles at it, or worse, get it down themselves, repair it, and fly it. With no branch low enough to begin a climb nor bark to grasp, and considering it was old and leaning at quite an absurd angle, we figured it best to fell the giant before it toppled of its own volition, no doubt crushing someone and sending them home in a neck brace.

With a hearty crackle and rumbling boom, it struck the ground, sending a plume of pine needles and cones, dust, and grass high into the air. I swore it made a mushroom cloud, but my father refutes my claim with his own witness. I stand by my beliefs.

I delicately dislodged it with my nimble fingertips, careful not to tug or tear the poor treasure. “It’ll take a great deal of sewing and stitching, but she should be air-worthy before long, if you give me a chance to work at it patiently,” my father reassured me with a wink and pat on the back. A looked from my woefully tattered kite back to the sky it once ruled and realized – with one less tree in the air, there was now more airspace. I could dominate the extra room with spins and twists I had only imagined before that.

“Hey da, could we lop one more timber down to give me just a little more room?”

“I don’t see why not. One less tree won’t kill the world.”

So at that, I had what I considered another half-kingdom’s worth of sky more to admire and use as I see fit. My dad took the kite home and made quick work of the holes and tears, in part to get me back outside and resume his peace and quiet inside.

The days I spent after that were filled with frivolous stunts and stunning acrobatics. I was the envy of the town, now owning enough room to dazzle even my own imagination. That summer went by in a hurry, and after being consumed once again with homework and routines, my kite collected dust under my bed, eagerly awaiting another opportunity to soar high and swift for all to see. Autumn and winter were bitter cold that year, my fingers were surely too numb to grip the twine, so I let the kite rest and resolved to resume flights in spring.

About a month and a half into the new quarter at school, I was assigned a project in woodwork class, and I thought back to the old logs in the park. Surely they’d be dry enough by now for me to use, and extra credit for bringing in my own wood (since I’d be responsible for cutting into the likeness of a straight board) seemed too good of an opportunity to pass up. So da and I went out and sawed the two trees into workable sizes and began learning how to create straight boards. I did come across an issue with the large tree that leaned. Hardly resembling any sort of straightness, I decided to use it for the smaller, finer parts of the project. The other tree, however, would be perfect for building a reasonably large doghouse.

We brought the logs into the woodshop and began by running a horizontal saw across the straight pieces in order to refine them into boards. The first attempt resulted in a log that flew across the room (I hadn’t quite learned how to brace them for the impact from the blade. The blade was also rotating opposite of the direction I needed it to, causing the projectile motion.) The second log stayed in place well enough, but splintered badly because I rushed the wood through the blade. I did more of the same with the third and fourth logs, but found a good pace for the fifth piece of wood. The saw cut through like a cold knife in frozen butter, but it cut smooth, straight, and true. I rotated the log to begin cutting the next edge of the board. By the time I had passed the log through the fourth time, I realized another issue: I had not check the angle of each pass, resulting in a more trapezoidal cross-section – hardly workable for the siding of a doghouse.

It took me another ten logs to figure out how to properly square it, but I eventually made a straight board. At that point, I had three logs left, and if I could replicate it, that would make a total of four workable pieces of wood… Not quite enough to make a large doghouse. So I decided to shorten each of the pieces and make a small doghouse, but seven small boards (one was cut too short to use) would only make part of the frame.

I explained the ordeal to my father, so he took me out to cut down another couple of mighty trees. I had wasted a week and a half of class time perfecting the art of a straight board and the assignment was due in another week, so I rushed the next logs to the school and worked them into boards before the weekend started. With warmer weather setting in, I was determined to save the weekends for returning my kite to its home among the birds and clouds.

With the absence of another two trees, I was joined by a couple friends, and together, we spent every second of daylight tugging at our kites. The wind was also stronger with less branches and leaves to diffuse the zephyrs.

By the time the week resumed, I walked lazily to class and my head bobbed like my kite, trying to keep itself up amid slow-moving airs of lectern-led discussion, exhausted from the weekend’s activity.

Lethargically eager to continue the project in woodshop, I dragged my feet a little less down the hallway and turned into the shop. With a gasp and stifled sob, I ran to my boards and found that they had all dried and warped in the warmth of their corner. They still somewhat resembled boards, but they were hardly workable. Still, the deadline remained for Friday, so I did my best to fasten together the pieces that were slightly less deformed than the others, and set a few weights on top of the others. I waited until Wednesday to ensure as much flatness as possible, and when I uncovered them to finish my project, a few had split along the face of the wood, and the rest compensated by bending along the edge not being squished. That was that and I needed to assemble the structure in order to get whatever feeble points might remain after my teacher’s pity-laughter.

It stood roughly three feet tall (unless you count the corner made with a piece of extremely flexed wood, in which case it measured closer to three-foot-six), had more holes than a knitted Christmas sweater that was run through a rough wash cycle, and earned me every last bit of that C- (it would have been a D- if not for that extra credit). With some boards still refusing to be tamed, they pulled away from the frame, resembling more of a hollow pile of sticks than a doghouse.

Still, I passed my class, and at the onset of the summer, I began reinforcing and streamlining my kite in whatever ways I could to prepare for the following months of incessant flight. Just before school let out and when there was finally no need for even a light jacket, I was soaring as I normally did one Saturday afternoon when I heard a distant, curious buzzing sound. Fearing the worst (considering a bee sting was the worst trial I could endure, I’d say I’ve lived a good life), I reeled in my Mary Flyer and ran to my house across the street. Just as I slammed the front door behind me and turned to look out the front window at the swarm which I was sure was in hot pursuit, I noticed something dart across the sky, graceful as a bird yet fast as an arrow.

I ran back out the door and across to the park and found one of my friends watching the foreign flying object intently while holding something with a bunch of knobs that he continually twisted and tapped. “Whatcha doin, Tom?” I asked.

“Flying my new plane! Isn’t it just the coolest?”

I wanted to try flying that plane more than anything in the world, but trying to not seem too impressed, I replied, “It’s pretty neat, I guess.” We watched him fly it around for another ten minutes or so before he landed it (a pretty rough landing, if you ask me) and walked our separate ways. He told me he had to go home and charge it before he could keep flying. Ha! His weakness was my strength! I could fly every time he had to go charge his batteries, and the sky was mine again for another two hours, only stolen from me for fifteen minute intervals.

And so, after another couple weeks, summer was all systems go, and we took turns wooing each other with complex and mesmerizing flight paths until the day Tom took to the skies and wouldn’t get down. That day, he came to the park with an armful of fully-charged batteries that I swore lasted five or six hours.

“I need to get a plane!” I burst through the door one day as I threw my kite on the ground and addressed my dad sternly.

“What if we could do one better?”

“Nothing is better than a plane, da! Tom won’t let me fly even between batteries anymore! I NEED A PLANE.”

“What flies faster than a plane and requires less batteries?”

“Larger planes with bigger batteries?” I was not the most creative thinker when my sky was being traumatically compromised.

“How about a rocket?” and at that moment, he pulled a box containing a scale model of the Aries rocket out from behind the couch. “I saw you watching that darn plane with what I swore was a pang of disappointment in your eye when you looked back at your kite, and it broke my heart. This should floor that kid Tom, and ground his little machine.”

It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life. My eyes were as big as baseballs as I reached out to grab it. “We need to assemble it first,” he said as he kept it just out of reach, “but once we have it put together, all it takes is a couple handfuls of motors and an ignition button to operate, and that only needs a few double-A batteries. He can’t fly while you’re waiting for it to parachute down, then you slam a new motor in the bottom, insert the sparker, and you’re set to go again.”

We worked long into the wee hours of the night to build that thing, and when finished, it stood three and a half feet tall, and glistened from the custom chrome paint job. Tom would be green with envy, and I’d tell him to set his plane next to his spot over there by the tree.

The next day, I took a box full of motors and my rocket, complete with its own private launch pad, to the park, and set it up, eagerly awaiting Tom and al of our friends that usually came to watch his puny aircraft. As they approached, I started my countdown, “All clear! All clear! Ten… nine… eight…”

“What are you doing?” Tom asked, interrupting my count.

“Oh, this is my new rocket. I was just about to blast off.”

“But what about my plane?”

“I’m sorry but I haven’t tried my rocket yet but you’ve been flying your plane for awhile now, and I don’t want your plane accidentally running into it. You won’t mind if I play with this today, will you?”

“No, I guess not,” he said in disappointment, head hung low, scraping his heels as I made them all back up to the trees, warning that the explosion could probably vaporize them if they stood too close.

I spent the entire day performing immaculate launch after launch, each one as beautiful and thrilling as the last. They all went up with oo’s and aa’s from the crowd that had gathered.

The rest of the week was more of the same. In fact, the sky was mine again until the following Wednesday, when the unthinkable happened.

“Ten… nine… eight…” I always began my count with ten or higher, the anticipation making the launch all the more thrilling, and prolonging my dominance, “five, four, three, two…” The final number was always muffled and overwhelmed by the sparks flying from the bottom of the rocket as it soared starward-bound. But this time, instead of a steady fizzling woosh that would grow more distant as it obtained its apsis, there was simple a loud crackle, and scattered popping as it catastrophically failed, sending shards of burning solid rocket fuel in all directions, the launch pad cracked in half, and everyone ducked. I had left the box of extra motors, now half gone, by a tree about twenty feet behind me.

One of the burning shards struck the box and I ran to go put it out before it sparked an even larger flame. My proud father who was standing behind me on that fateful day grabbed my arm and pulled me as we, along with the rest of the crowd, ran for the hills. Someone called the fire department as we stood across the street and down a little ways and watched as motors started flying this way and that, straight up into the thick canopy of branches created by the mighty trees. The damage could not be reversed at this point. We stood hopeless as the entire box erupted in one large KABLAM, showering sparks and starting fires in almost every tree in the park. After about ten minutes, the fire department showed up and doused the flames, and I stood weeping and shaking as I gave my testimony to what happened.

The firefighters looked around at the black smoke still rising from some of the trees and said there’d likely be some sort of fine to pay for the damages. My father told me I’d have to find some small job watering plants at a nursery or bussing tables at a restaurant to pay him back for covering the cost.

The next day, a small, orange net-fence went up and surrounded the park with signs saying, “No Trespassing, Beware Of Falling Branches.” The damage from the fire had not quite taken its full effect on the massive giants, but over the next week I watched in horror as tree after tree was chopped down, in danger of falling as they dried out. All but one tree was left standing.

Every day, I went to the corner grocery store and bagged groceries for the old ladies who would hand me a dime or a piece of nasty hard candy, neither of which was very useful to me. About a week before the new school year started, my father told me I had made enough to pay him back, but I’m pretty sure he was lying because he stayed late at work every day too, dark circles forming under his eyes, but the same contagious smile he always wore never dimmed for a moment.

I was walking home from my last day of work for the summer when I looked up and saw they had built a permanent chain-link fence around the park with new signs that read, “No open flames or smoking allowed. Absolutely no rockets allowed. Be careful of the newly planted trees. Area preserved for reforestation.” There was a small break in the fence to allow people to still use the space, but the exceptions to activities was clear.

I got home and sat on the couch across the room from my dad, who was reading a book in the loveseat. He had finally arrived home at his regular hour. “Hey champ, how was work?” He asked with a smile.

“It was okay… Mrs. Stoeckle gave me another dime. I think I’ve made enough off her to pay for college now,” I said with a smirk.

“Oh you think so, eh?” He chuckled as his eyes went back to scanning the page.

After a few more minutes of silence and me staring at my socks, rubbing my toes together to make a faint squeaking noise, my dad looked at me and asked, “What’s eating you, bud?”

“All the trees in the park are gone and it’s all my fault. I should have never tried competing with Tom.”

“Yes and no, son. There is still one tree there. It was my favorite one, anyways. It annoyed me that the others blocked my view of it,” he said and he winked at me, “No one could have seen that coming. You don’t decide which motors work and which ones are duds. You can’t even tell by looking at them. You just put the rockets together and hope it all works out. But you didn’t need to prove yourself to Tom or any of the other kids or there parents. You don’t even need to prove yourself to me. You just need to do what makes you happy.”

“I was happy flying my kite,” I shed a tear as I looked over at it, still sitting in neglect in the corner of the room, the dust now in a visible layer on top of it like icing.

“I think it’s time to reinstate that old bird. Your mother would smile to see it again.”

He started to tear up, too, even with that same smile he always wore. “How are you always so happy, da? Why don’t you frown, even when thinking about ma?”

“Your mother knew what it meant to be happy, and she passed that on to me, champ,” he said as I walked over to sit on his lap. He held me close and said, “The day she went on that sailboat, just before she set off, she called me and told me what a great time she and her friends were having, fulfilling their dream  of buying a boat together, of sailing the open sea for a couple days. I told her I missed her and she said she missed me too, but that she’d be home soon. She said she missed my smile. Of all the things I was to her, she missed my smile the most. She never imagined a storm would stop them, she never feared that it would sink. Probably why they didn’t take any life vests… She said she wanted me to have a good time with you while she was away.” He sat me up so I would face him, “And I’ll tell you what… I’m having a great time with you. And you have her smile, so I never really have to miss it. It makes me smile to see you smile. Hence the rocket. So, if it’ll make you feel better, you can blame the fire on your mother and me.”

“I could never blame it on ma. She only gave me a kite. You gave me a flyable fire.” I giggled as he tickled me. “I love you, da. You’re the best.”

“No, son. You mother was the best. She’ll always be Merry Mary to me.”

The next day, I woke up at the crack of dawn and ran out the door before the church bells started ringing to call everyone for morning service. I loosened a little twine and raised the kite, a little afraid the wind wouldn’t be strong enough to pull it into the air. With a sudden, magical gust, it was up and away before I could blink. The wind pulled it so tightly that you could almost play a tune on the string. It bobbed and swayed as it always had, spinning in circles and performing stunts I’m not entirely sure I was in control of.

After service let out, Tom came out and joined me, asking my permission to fly his plane. I told him he could, but warned that the wind was pretty strong that day. Putting caution to the wind, he took off and performed some amazing barrel rolls, loop-de-loops, and split-s maneuvers. During one of the stunts, the plane caught a gust and spun wildly out of control and flew straight into the tree, which had started growing a few leaves on its uppermost branches, most of them had been burned off, the trunk still a bit charred from the fire. He started walking home in a sad state, but I called out for him and told him to grab his kite and join me. I felt bad for him, but we had a much better time flying kites together than watching each other try to win over the whole of space. We left the plane in the tree and it never came down.

When he returned, I looked up into the sky… The mass stood like a giant, blue ocean suspended above our heads, the clouds racing in the distempered wind. “This is gonna be a wild ride,” I said as Tom and I looked at each other in amusement. The wind was now whipping our hair and batting our ears, “Three… two… one.”

And up they flew, soaring like eagles. I let my grip loosen on the spool of twine so the kite flew ever higher. When I had finally come to the very end of the string, I held on tight and tugged to make Mary Flyer do a quick loop. I had to squint a bit to see it; I’m not sure I had ever flown that high before. I imagined sitting on top and seeing the world.

And I smiled.

Buddy the Duckling

It was an absolutely spectacular day to be six years old. The sun was shining, a few fluffy clouds spotted the bright blue sky to give it a bit of texture, and there was a breeze that was just cool enough to raise the goosebumps on my arms. It was the kind of day that required a light spring jacket which would be uncomfortably hot about halfway through a bike ride. Coincidentally I did exactly that, after asking my mother’s permission, of course. I told her I was going to the park just across the street to play on the playground. I may have had every intention of swinging on the swingset or sliding down the dark-green, plastic slides that would charge me with static electricity. It made the hair on my head stand on end after simply thinking about taking a trip down the chute, the funny thoughts inside personified as the thin, blonde fibers whipped and bobbed in the wind, my little legs carryied me swiftly to the next fleeting whimsy.

But that’s not what I did. Instead, I looked both ways to cross the street, scurried across like my life depended on it, and saw my target: a flock of pigeons just asking to be spooked. I wove between the humongous maple trees that stood like Roman pillars, holding a canopy of light green between the cloud-spotted sky above, and me. Miniature clearings developed naturally between the trees, and in the middle of one of the clearings, the soon-to-be horrified fowl. The trees whirred past as I reached breakneck speed; I swore I was dragging knee as I turned sharply between them.

I always had dirt-and-grass stains on the knees of whatever pants I happened to wear. I was always kneeling to look at bugs, pretending to be an animal (usually a proud lion or stealthy tiger), or falling because I was woefully uncoordinated, and I usually was fighting an adversary that inevitably would knock me to the ground as I protected the princess’s honor. Usually something ginormous like a dragon or tyrannosaurus-rex, but they were still no match for me. I was fearless, intrepid even.

On that gorgeous day, I had no such intentions of scuffing my jeans (though I hardly needed any), but as fate would have it, I’d be nearly bloodied by nemesis.

As the trees swished past my face in a blur, I acquired my target: a flock ripe for the terrorizing. I lined the bike up, pedaled harder and faster than ever before and ever after that day, the birds bolting off the ground, one by one at first, and then all as one mass. But something was wrong. Nearly all of the birds flew away. My mission was nearly accomplished. The single, lone bird that refused to flee happened to be standing right in front of me.

I had no time to dodge. I had no time to bob and weave as I had done with the trees. I wasn’t a horrible kid, I had no intention of shooting to kill. I was just having a little fun. My mind raced faster than my bike (which was a wonder since I was already nearly as fast as a race car), but I didn’t have time to consider options and consequences. In one deplorable motion, I laid the bike down. It sounds so much calmer when I put it that way… In one catastrophic, decisive movement, I torpedoed into the ground, leaving a crater the size of the Grand Canyon in my wake. Sticks, leaves, dirt, and debris plumed into the sky in the shape of a mushroom cloud, and before I knew what happened, I was twisted on the ground. I’m pretty sure I lost a shoe. That was the day my helmet saved my life.

As I gathered my sprawled limbs, I patted myself down to make sure I hadn’t lost an ear or anything important like that. My bike continued on without me for a couple hundred feet, but my mind hadn’t turned to that yet. Still in the army-crawl position, I turned my head with a premature flinch, certain that all I left behind of the poor, aloof bird was a smoking pair of legs, still standing, bodiless, like the kind you’d see in the cartoons. As I slowly surveyed my crash site, my heart leapt; the victim turned to become the attacker, and frozen in place, I shut my eyes tight, muscles clenching as I braced for the onslaught.

A few seconds passed and I didn’t feel a peck or a body slam or any other sort of barrage as one would expect from a put-off bird. Instead, I heard the most adorable, petite chirp. I opened my eyes and let out a chuckle as, staring me directly in the face with something resembling sympathy, a little, golden duckling scanned me for injury. I supposed that was the intent, anyways.

I sat upright, noting the deep brown and green scuffs in my jeans, the right knee exposed and frayed threads holding the now-asunder denim. The duckling jumped up onto my lap and scurried beneath my jacket, shaking. I was now mother duck, and my jacket fold was my shielding wing. I giggled as it ran around me, prodding every once in awhile to decide what all of me was. I didn’t know if I should touch it or pet it or simply leave it alone. What I did know was that I wanted to go home and have my mother assess my injuries because I still ached.

So I made the trek to where my bike’s journey ended, stood it up, and made my way home. As I walked, I thought I’d hear the duckling’s voice grow more distant, but it seemed to stay at the same level as when I hit the ground. I turned around and looked down and at my heel was the little duckling. I didn’t want to hurt it or pick it up, so I tried shooing it by waving my hands halfheartedly, secretly hoping it wouldn’t listen to me.

The walk home was a slow one, I didn’t want to lose my new friend, especially since it had chosen to follow me, and what kind of mother duck would I be if I left the little soldier behind? We looked both was and started across the street. Something inside me felt awry since I was not able to hold the duckling’s hand or wing or whatever you hold on a duck to cross the street, but we had to continue on despite our flaws: such is life.

My house was the second on the left, and my new friend and I made it all the way there all by ourselves. I knocked on the side door, which I’m sure caught my mother off-guard, since I rarely even knocked the bathroom door when I needed to use the potty. She looked me up and down with a questioning look of, “What have you done this time,” and saw the duckling standing politely next to me, not making a peep so as to win over my mother’s heart.

“Can we keep him?” I implored. She laughed and stooped over, startling the little guy as he ran to put me between him and her, “I don’t see why not. What should we name him?” “Buddy!” I smiled and hugged her. I had always wanted a pet.

She gently scooped him up with the care of a real mother and grinned from ear to ear. Keeping him tight yet tenderly in her hands, we searched for a cardboard box to house him in, lined it with a soft towel, and placed two dishes on the bottom: one for water and one with grass (because every child knows ducklings eat grass). We kept his new house in the back room which was open to the elements, but closed in as part of the house so that if he tried to escape, he would never get too far.

In truth, I don’t remember how long we kept him. I remember putting on my same spring jacket and kneeling on the ground so he could be comforted under my wing, flipping a Frisbee upside down and filling it with water for his bird bath, and playing other games with him in the back yard. I won’t tell the story of what happened to him just yet because I’m having too much fun with this happy memory, but he was small and cute and golden the whole time I knew him, and he was my buddy.

Buddy the Duckling

We don’t have trees and parks like this in Arizona, and there’s something about huge cacti that is not nearly as whimsical as a maple tree. If you look directly behind the octagon of the “Stop” sign and a little to the left, you can see the clearing where I nearly ran over Buddy, and he followed me from there to the street crossing in the bottom right-hand corner of the picture. Two houses to the left is my childhood house where I lived fifteen years ago.

She Loves Me

“She loves me… she loves me not… she loves me… she loves me not… uh oh…” and then I picked another daisy from the garden and continue, “She loves me… she loves me not… she loves me… she loves me not… SHE LOVES ME!”

With the biggest grin a five-year-old is capable of, I held onto that pedal like my life depended on it, and to some extent, it did. It made me giddy, even though the little game was slightly fixed. And by slightly, I mean entirely. But it wasn’t fixed by me.

I ran inside as quickly as I could, cheeks ruddy in my brazen yet bashful state. It was only a few hundred feet away, but for me, I traversed the Great Plains and hiked Mt. Everest by the time I reached the kitchen. And there was my mother, looking out the window, watching over me the whole time as she cleaned the dishes. “Mommy!” I ran up to her and she immediately dropped the dish she was slaving over to stoop and pick me up, bringing me to rest on her hip. I held the pedal out for her to take, “It’s a ‘she loves me’ petal.” Chuckling at my childish candor, she asked, “Who loves you, honey?”

“You do.”

I swear I don’t remember her tearing up from that because my attention span was likely already off to the next thing, but she claims she did. I do remember her saying, “I do love you, honey,” and giving me a kiss and the best hug I’ve ever received in my life.

I hadn’t fixed the game, she had. She always has, and continues to until this day. She taught me how to Love, and that’s the most critical lesson I ever learned.

Divide and Conquer, My Love

I swear I’m not a romantic simply because it feels good. In fact, it has hurt me more than it has helped. But I refuse to let go of it. Mayhaps it’s my youthful heart. Mayhaps it’s immaturity. But today, the hurt is so real, and so worth it.

Love is not a word to be taken lightly. It has been describes as a battlefield, hell, a struggle, bliss, blind, and even weakness. Now, I know one of those words doesn’t quite fit with the others, but ignorance is also called bliss… I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you think calling Love “bliss” is actually a positive thing. But, by God, I fell in Love. The worst and best thing about Love is that it is uncomfortable because it causes you to think about another person much more than you think about yourself. Say, for instance, you have a new relationship, but in a very short time, you’ve fallen in Love with that person.

What are the reasons you fell in Love? For me, it was that she treated me better than any other girl ever has. That’s because she’s not a girl, she’s a lady. It’s because she liked my silliness and laughed at my jokes. Some of it was pity, no doubt, but the other side is that she chose to enjoy me as I am instead of judge who I am. She and I could have intelligent conversations… Like, really intelligent. She would indulge my requirement of myself to be cerebral, to discover aspects of the universe I’m sure not many consider. This is not because we have god complexes, but because she knows I need more than silliness and physical affections. She desires to meet me half-way. She would also shower me with compliments, encouragement, and kind words. This is not because she thinks I’m insecure or need any puffery, but because she desires to make me feel Loved. To let me know I’m Loved. She would touch my hands, my sides, my neck. She pulled me close for passionate kisses and whispered words. This isn’t because she just wanted sex. It’s because she wanted me. It’s because she wanted me to smile in that goofy way you do when you’re dumbstruck by the kiss that comes with fireworks and speechless awe. She wanted to pull away and stare into my eyes and see that we make each other happy, just as we are.

She would stare into my eyes. This is not because she thinks my eyes are any prettier than the million other eyes that pass by every day. It’s because she saw me in a way I can’t fathom seeing myself. She hoped that, as I look into her eyes, the reflection of myself in her deep pupils would reflect her perspective of me, in all its shining glory. I stared because I desire the same thing for her. I held her close and told her she’s beautiful, but that’s never quite enough. She’s so much more than beauty, and if she could see herself through my eyes, she would know. I think she did see that at least on one or two occasions. I know I saw it.

When she stared deep into my eyes, smizing (smeyezing?)… I don’t know how to spell it. Smiling with your eyes (thank you, Tyra Banks)… I was reminded that this is how God looks at each and every one of us, every single moment of our lives. He vies for our attention against all other things. I would never feel unloved or unwanted again if I remembered that. Unfortunately, we are but momentary creatures of the Fall. We are so transient. That’s why He sends people like her into our lives, so they can be glimpses and reminders of Himself and His affections.

The sad thing is that not everyone shows that Love He wants us to display.

But she did.

“If you Love me, then let me go.” This is a popular line in a million cliché love songs. I get it now. Arizona is going to feel a bit more like a desert when she’s gone. London is going to win itself an angel.

Through all the tears and heartache, I rest assured that people on the other side of the ocean will be graced with her fire. And she will take in theirs, and with any luck at all, they will start an insatiable inferno, and infallible blaze. With any luck at all, at least one more will finally understand Love.

Before you say I should chase her, win her over, not give up… She’s not mine to cage. If you want more people in the world to understand something as deep and incalculable as Love, you let the bird share its song with all those willing and aware enough to listen.

The bird chooses the nest.

And life will move forward, and we will live lives. And because we part on bittersweet terms, the Love will live forever in the moments we had together, and it doesn’t have to be spoiled by strain. And if there comes a time when it may be reignited, it will be reignited. But what if’s and enslaving hope are a captor whose greed knows no bounds.

She is Love, as I am.

Maybe we were meant to divide and conquer.

Maybe It’s Because You Said Please

Dear Bob,

I’m so so sorry. It’s been about a year since we last spoke, and though for close friends that’s no time at all, it’s a lifetime between you and me. And I still don’t know what to say to you. Part of me wants to tell you how pissed I am at you. How confused this entire situation makes me. The worst part is that I just don’t understand why it affects me so much still. Every time I think about it for too long or talk about it, I either become stiff as a board without a quiver in my lips or fingers, or I cry so much that I am unable to control the steadiness I am so accustomed to in my voice. In the company of others, I maintain some small composure, but alone, I weep bitterly, the sobs taking my breath for granted.

There is just so much I don’t understand. Maybe you were right to tell me I was in over my head. That I wouldn’t understand. That was the last conversation you and I had – the last words you spoke to me. Do you realize that? I don’t want you to feel any remorse or regret, it made me stronger. And weaker. More susceptible to introvertisms and less likely to break down my own walls. More likely to realize when I’m starting to open up, and as a result, freeze in place long enough to barricade my heart. Luckily I’ve always been pretty resilient, as required by my life’s circumstances, and open myself to complete strangers. Perhaps that’s how we got here in the first place. Ultimately, it is my fault that we don’t speak anymore. It was my fault that we started speaking, after all.

I have a few questions for you, Bob. I never expect to get an answer to any of these questions. In fact, I expect to die many years from now without any progress made or any deeper understanding of you or why. But I must ask anyways, if only to finally know I asked them.

What made you fall for Rose Ann? Was she so much to you that you’d find your exodus from Carol acceptable in any way? What is it that she said or did to you to hold you so tightly, so loyally? And when did you finally see how wrong you were? I know you knew you were wrong.

How were you even capable of walking away from all those who know and love you? I imagine I wasn’t terribly significant to you in your life, but that makes my intrusion and involvement that much more puzzling and damning. But how could you walk away from your son? Why didn’t you even attempt to make amends? At least enough to pacify the hatred I know he had. Did your hatred match his? And how could you hold your daughter at arm’s length?

When you spoke with my dad after ten years of absence, what gave you the audacity to ask him out to get drinks? What made you think that was not disgusting and rude, when you had no intention of seeing your word through again?

Fast forward an additional ten years… What went through your mind when you received that letter from me? I know you know that I shouldn’t have known your address. You probably assumed where I got it from, but you’re wrong. Your daughter had nothing to do with my acquisition of your personal information. Luckily, all information can be purchased for a price.

Why didn’t you come to my graduation? I thought you’d show up. You’ve been there before, and I know you’d be proud of me because you know how hard it is. In the end, it may have been for the best. It may very well have done in my broken relationship (though I’d count an early extermination of that a blessing), but I cannot say what my father’s reaction to your presence would have been. I thought that, at the very least, it would have given us both a spot of closure.

When I asked if you wanted to get drinks some time to help you keep at least some small portion of your word, why did you say it was even possible? We both know now it never could have happened. Rose Ann never would have allowed it, and we both know why. I am just so baffled… How did she keep you from us so successfully. Every story I hear about you, you were the badass lady’s man that could find his way around a car and a twelve pack as well as he could tenderness or other things that win women over so easily. Did you use this crap on Rose Ann, or did she use it on you? Did you know she would make you miss your grandson’s birth, countless birthdays, or wreck your princess’s heart? She’s doing fine, by the way. Her son is in the United States Army now. He ships out today. I know you’d have been proud. You’ve been there before, too. How many shots did you fire as a soldier? Did you have nightmares? Sometimes I have nightmares because I neglected that path in my life.

Bob… Robert… Mr. Cleland. I don’t even know how to address you. Perhaps sir is most fitting. It’s the last thing I called you, your final title from me. Do you remember that? Do you know I had utmost respect for you and your wishes? I’d have followed you into war. I knew I’d be able to rely on you… Well, I did believe that, once.

Sir, do you believe what you told me? Do you really believe I wouldn’t have understood? Is telling someone you love them grounds for dismissal? I don’t recall it being a damnable offense in any context, not the way I said it. And my intention was clear, I know that for certain.

Did you know you’d never see me again? Did you know I had an envelope prepared for you? A third piece of paper, a final attempt to reach out. Did you know that I’d regret not sending it to you? Did you know I’d blame myself for your death? Did you know I blamed myself for the deaths of two of my friends? I’m only 24. The only people I know my age that blame themselves for deaths are soldiers and some vein of terrorist. Maybe there is, in fact, no difference but a few blurred lines.

Did you know how much I wanted to meet you? Did you even have any inkling how much meeting you meant to me? I don’t even remember the last time I saw your face, though I hear you did. I was four, you were rolling around on the ground, entertaining me. I hear you loved me once, too. With such distant non-memories, I’m not sure I can see it. I’ll believe it if your daughter tells me you talked about me at all.

Uncle Bob, when you left my family twenty years ago, I know that must have been tumultuous hell for you. I know because everyone else in your family have hearts the size of Texas that cry at even the mention of bagpipes. I know you love your daughter, my cousin. I know because I saw the picture of you two together. One of the last photos of you. You both looked so happy together, despite the hospital bed. Thank God there’s photo evidence, otherwise I’m not sure I’d trust anyone if they told me, even if they all told the same exact story. I know your brother, my father, was strong once, and that he earned some of that strength through your presence in his life. I only hope I may inherit a fraction of your strength. A man with cancer that still has the strength to smile is an admirable and honorable sort of man.

Did you know it would take you before I ever got to see you in the span of my memory? I don’t remember you at four. I wish at twenty-three I’d have known you. Twenty-three was supposed to be a big year for me. Twenty-four so far is full of stumbling, reminiscing, regretting, and attempting to pick myself up enough to move forward one step at a time. That letter I was supposed to send to you before leaving the country for a month could have been a better final conversation between us. Do you remember our final conversation?

“Chris, we got your letter in the mail… You’re in way over your head. This is twenty-some years in the making, and you can’t possibly understand it. Please don’t try to contact me again, and don’t even think about seeing me in the hospital.”

“Yes, sir.”

“I don’t want to hear from you again. Goodbye.”

“Yes, sir. Bye.”

That wasn’t supposed to be our last conversation. I was bringing you back to the family in a way no one else could. I was supposed to see you. I earned my right to see you. I’m the reason you got to spend time with your brother, his wife and daughter, and your own daughter at the end of your life. I’m the reason you talked to your two sisters and second brother on the phone. I’m the reason you got to speak to your son in a civil way for the first time in ten years. I hear it was actually a good conversation, too. I’m the reason you had two days of freedom with your family at the end of your life. I hope you know I do love you. I’m just sorry I never sent that letter.

Maybe it’s because you said please.

Full Time

Yesterday, I received the email that I waited six long years to receive. It reads,

“Dear Christopher Cleland,

CONGRATULATIONS!

Your Bachelor of Science in Engineering Degree has been posted to your Northern Arizona University academic record…”

At first, I was pretty excited. And I mean that in a way where I was, at best, only mildly thrilled to receive this notification. I was sitting at work, my first engineering job, when I got it, and thought, “That is the reason I am here now.”

Let me explain something: I know I am blessed by the opportunity to be here, the opportunity to go on to higher education and earn a degree in something people consider “prestigious,” and to have a job right out of college. But I will not pretend this is the happiest day of my life, nor the happiest I’ve ever been. Some people may think, at this point, I am ungrateful. I can assure you I am not, I know all of this is a privilege that some don’t have the opportunity to pursue.

I decided to look at my transcript to see how my employer will see me if they choose to look over this transcript, this glimpse at the nutshell that was my college career. As I looked it over, I couldn’t help but question what the devil it was that kept me going. First semester: and A, two B’s, a D, and an F. The only positive grade towards my major was a B in Calculus, and I remember my professor telling me that she gave it to me, that I had likely earned a D, if she was being honest.

Okay, no worries. First semester of college can be rough on some. Let’s look at semester two: Two B’s, two C’s, and an F. Okay… not so good. No matter, it usually takes a year to get into the swing of things. Year 2 of college was no better, most of my good grades achieved in media classes (that was my minor for awhile), and the poor grades were typically the math or engineering classes (but I’ll remind you, they start out quite simple). The overall GPA trend was rocky, at best. I have no shame admitting I ended on a 2.69.

So why am I even writing this? Because someone needs to hear this: I didn’t follow my heart, I didn’t follow my dreams, and it landed me exactly where it promised it would. In a cubicle at a job I don’t really like, doing work I cannot invest myself in because, as good as it is for the greater portion of society, it is not where my heart lies. I am getting paid more than I ever have (six times as much as I was making at Home Depot), and yet my lust for life and the skip in my happy-go-lucky gait is all but worn down.

Now, this job does afford me the opportunity to follow my dreams as I am recording new music, flying to other cities and states regularly to visit friends and record on other artists’ projects, but what’s the use if I wake up every day dragging my feet, and come home sapped of the little energy I started with and the will to move forward or to create?

The question remains: why am I still here? Well, I had to pay for that degree somehow, and seeing as I lost my scholarship after my first semester, I am paying full price for that schooling. So I’m here to pay off a debt for something I didn’t want to do by doing something else I don’t want to do, while looking for the silver linings in every 45-minute car ride to and from work. I’m afraid I’ll be comfortable even after the debt is paid, I’m afraid the energy I started with will be completely gone by the time I am done here, and my paycheck will be THE motivator (and trust me, it’s a very strong motivator).

I’m not bitter (well, maybe I am a little), but this is also just my life path. This is the direction I have been given to walk along; it is a culmination of conditioning, action, and reaction. I have learned a lot from it, and I’m sure I’ll appreciate it someday when I am much older, wiser, and more patient.

But this is here for you, not me. I lived this so you (and you know who you are) don’t have to. And I won’t say “you don’t have to make the mistakes I did” because it was no mistake and you’re going to make mistakes of your own. But don’t be afraid to shift the paradigm, to question those that “know better.” Don’t be afraid to upset mommy and daddy. This is YOUR life, and if you want to be a musician or a writer or a school teacher or an entomologist or a circus clown, you go write ahead, ya little weirdo. Be you. Let your heart do the talking for you. And know that it is never too late.

I mean look at me. I am sitting at an engineer’s desk, pretending to be a writer when no one is looking, pretending to be a musician when I get home, a coffee shop barista on the weekends, and a full time dreamer.

I guess I haven’t lost my spark yet, but I am afraid I will lose it. Something that will help me maintain the ember glow is encouragement, so please let me know if you got anything from my little rant here. And more importantly: make sure you encourage anyone you see with the same symptoms as me. The losing hopers and unsure man-childs. There are tons of us around, and we can usually be seen acing absurdly childish or giddy in the most commonplace, mundane situations, making the best of ordinary situations because the ordinary conversations are the ones that light up our world.

At the center of the brightest lights is a black force which threatens to absorb the light simply because it is easier to succumb than it is to fight. But if there’s a dream in which we can believe and other believers to water the seed, the darkness is extinguished, or at least  remains at bay, and life grows like a golden tree.

The Children – Rachel and Jonathan (to be continued)

A fire burns low in the hearth, emitting a deep, velvety red glow that swaddles the room in shadows and warmth. Across from the hearth sits an oversized but broken in dark brown leather couch, now appearing nearly black as a silhouette, guarded on either side by knotted wood side-tables topped with a glass of undoubtedly warm milk and a napkin displaying a few crumbs. Laying upon the couch, the most curious young lady I have ever beheld. Eyes crystalline blue as topaz now tightly shut, knotted golden hair strewn across every surface it can reach, flowing down her right shoulder like the cascading confusion that fills her mind. Breathing in steady, deep draughts, the serenity of the scene is a fine masquerade in comparison to her dreams. Her eyelids quiver as her eyes shift back and forth, desperately hoping beyond hope that they’d open to release her from the horrific scenes playing out behind them. To no avail, her night terror continues on with vigor.

“Go back from whence you came, you spiggity liggle jobbity!” This may seem quite humorous to you and I, but how often do terrors in the night actually make sense to those foolish enough to wake up? “I’ll globble your brigobrough with my nuffinty blumputs if it’s the las’ thing I do!” With that, the jobbity shot its fearsome gaze in her direction, threatening to petrify her arms and disintegrate her toes, but she blocked it with a happy thought of a knight in shining armor just in the nick of time. She lunged back with a sunflower and a cup of chai tea, aimed directly at its focal point. The jobbity dodged most of the attack, but a pedal and a few drops clipped its shumpty, knocking it slightly off-balance. This bought her enough time to get back to her feet and send a slurry of nostalgia that was sure to hit its mark. Her aim was straight and true, but her belief in herself wavered, causing the direct hit to weaken even as it approached the beast. With a gurgling chortle, the jobbity flobbed at the jib. This was it, she knew it. Why did she always always always have to have an explanation ready for why she can’t do it? She spent what seemed like an hour hopelessly watching the flob when it finally was mere millimeters away from her face. “I am ready,” she said. With that, the jobbity collapsed and imploded. Simultaneously, the scene melted into a canvas of watery chalk on a rainy day, and she slowly opened the lids of her eyes, finally free and yet tragically devastated that she could not have reveled of her victory for more than a moment.

“Rachel, sweetheart,” a hearty, merry voice whispered as a coarse yet tender hand lovingly smoothed her hair, gathering the bits that poured over the arm of the couch, “I made you some eggs and toast for breakfast. You fell asleep on the couch. Did you have bad dreams again?” “Don’t be silly, da. There’s no such thing as a bad dream. I started sleeping in my bed, but the jobbity threatened me… I knew I’d need the glow of the fire for this one. It warmed me up, and I think I got it in the end, but then it all melted.” With a chuckle, he helped her sit up and escorted her to the table, still trying to correct the rogue strands of hair. She hopped into the seat in front of the plate of sunny side up eggs and lightly toasted wheat bread, cinnamon sugar sprinkling onto the plate as she bit into it. He turned to ask if she wanted some coffee with her breakfast, but she was so contented by the toast that he didn’t bother to ask and poured her a tall, steaming mug, adding just a splash of cream. She smiled brightly and garbled, “Shanksh da.”

Some peoples smiles light up a room, but not Rachel’s. Hers could light up the whole of the night sky, even with a full moon and all the stars. They say smiles are contagious, but the epicenter and origin of that contagion is Rachel. I myself have been in such a foul mood that I literally couldn’t think of one decent thing to say about myself or anyone else, and so I stayed silent for the entire morning. (I’ve been told by several sources that if I have nothing nice to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all.) It was a miserable morning to be miserable on and there wasn’t a darn thing anybody could say to make me think differently. I hit my head in the shower, dropped my soap several times, bruising at least three of my toes, ripped my pants while trying to put them on in a hurry because I was running late, and discovered to my chagrin that I had not prepared my pantry for the next day, so I had nothing of substance to eat for lunch. So I gave up on the day and decided I’d at least do one thing I enjoy: sit at a coffee shop.

Head low and bobbing lazily, feet scraping the pavement with my shoulders hunched, I slumped over to a café called Cultured, and as I reached out to open the front door, who but Rachel should greet me with a big, toothy-grinned and squinty-eyed smile, and say, “Top ‘o the Monday mornin’ to ya, mister! It’s quite the lovely day we’re having!” Without a hesitation or second thought, I returned the greeting, “Sure is, kiddo!” and bounced my merry way over to the counter to order my coffee, whistling the happiest tune I think I may have made up on the spot, the hint of a skip filling my gait. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face! The cashier laughed at how goofy and wide my smile was. It wasn’t until I looked to find a table that I thought about what I was there to do. The goal was to improve my mood in some minute way, but that had been done for me already and in such a way that I could hardly believe I’d ever been unhappy before in my life.

I was perplexed. I had to think about what it was that turned my day around, and when I had finally figured it out, Rachel was already out the door and down the street, dragging her dad and brother along as she bounced and sang something about being a silly cherry tart, her father laughing and trying to hush her because she didn’t know what she was saying.

Back at the breakfast table, Rachel’s dad put the dishes in the sink and poured three more coffees- one for himself, one for his wife, and the third for Rachel’s brother, Jonathan. He beamed as he watched her hum, chewing her eggs and slurping her coffee. He was so proud of his little princess. “BRUCE! What’s my name again?!” Rachel’s mom called to her dad. “What the devil are you talking about?” He shouted back, knowing that this would be some sort of silly setup. “WHAT’S MY NAME?” she asked again “Uhh… Deborah?” With that, she slid into the kitchen, arms outstretched and theatrical, and said, “No! It’s Deboooooraaah!” She was dressed in electric blue sunglasses, a lime green, feathery boa, and a large yellow sunhat in addition to her pajamas. Humorously suave and sassy, as she called it, she strutted over to her place at the table, lifted her glasses to wink at Rachel, and blew a kiss to Bruce, both of them laughing from their stomachs, Rachel fell off her chair.