The Return of Promise

It seems a bit odd to me that I should be held disreputable for a chickens’ reproductive and excreting methods.  While I’m not able to answer that age old question about which came first, neither did I have anything to do with the construction and execution of the ‘vent method’ referenced in a previous post.

And, aside from having aged a smidgen more since we last connected with eyes and ears, I’m still pretty much that same ‘ol elusive, mysterious, enigma that I’ve always been.  Wafting in and out of the present and past and doing my best to stay under the radar screen that is responsible for bad feelings,  AK-47’s, and all other mean missives.

Image result for sandhill crane

However, Sandhill Cranes are now migrating northwards in huge silvery V’s, wending their way towards their preferred breeding grounds, and sounding their prehistoric calls that give me such current happiness married with hope for the future.  (Maybe not for us, but likely for them as they’ve already been around for fifteen million years or so, while our relatively short-lived human sprint seems headed for the stuff that exudes from chicken posteriors.)

And Spring, unmistakable Spring, inexorable Spring is shouting its presence on the natural stage despite I-285 and the “progress” that roaring bulldozers are making to “improved real estate”.  Hang on chillun!  Nature bats last and Her lineup includes chicken vents, Sandhills, and those blazingly hot pink ‘Okame’ flowering cherry trees!

Image result for sandhill crane

Yep, they’ve been migrating north for the last couple of weeks.  In our area, they’ll be headed south in November and December.  They are huge birds ( about 42″ at maturity) and have a call that I can only describe as somewhat guttural.  Nothing like the honking of geese for which they are frequently mistaken.  I’ll tip my hand on spirituality in this forum:  when I hear or see them I am moved to tears.  Hard to describe exactly why, but they represent a continuity to life with their coming and going; their silvery wings of migration describe grandeur; their milling about as they wait for stragglers is community; their lofty height above human heads feels like hope.

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Yet Another Use for Vaseline . . .

 

The following account has been formatted to fit the screens of Pullet-zer judges.*  While the basic story line is true, it has been salted with adjectives, adverbs, and the newly fashionable “alternative facts” much like a hot dog is embellished with chow-chow for improved flavor and interest despite whatever taste the meat may actually have.

 

Setting: A sultry summer’s night in northern Kentucky inside an even sultrier old barn, a dilapidated section of which is devoted to chicken housing.  

The scene of the lubrication

The scene of the lubrication

Primary Characters:    1)  Me, a recruited participant with severe misgivings about the entire proceedings;  2) the owner of the seventeen feathery members of the barn’s resident chicken flock, an 88 year old Matriarch given to instant declarations of impending doom on any topic;  3) a self-proclaimed Chicken Whisperer whose position is under no threat of displacement by any of the locals; 4) the attractive daughter of the aforementioned Matriarch whose presence is a combined result of outright bribery and hornswoggling coupled with threats of disinheritance.

 

Having been raised in country life, I have been in proximity to chickens almost all of my years.  Thus, I am reasonably familiar with those feathered creatures including their diverse, individual personalities along with their inclinations to defecate whenever and wherever the urge for them to do so occurs.  Early on, most farm kids develop a barnyard version of hopscotch in order to avoid the erratic patterns of carpet bombing that are released in those pastoral settings.

Getting back to chickens specifically, most folks are not aware that those descendants of the dinosaur have an opening at their back-end known as the “vent”.  This orifice provides a dual-purpose avenue for both defecation along with a path for egg passage as those hen fruit exit their bodies.  (Note: This fact may dampen the usual enthusiasm for egg collecting in situ.)

At the risk of being overly graphic, any animal with an excess of feathers or fur around its anal area is in some danger of having poo collect on said growth. For chickens, this situation seems a bit more problematic when freezing weather sets in as excrement tends to stick more readily to those close surroundings.  Fast forward to several days of freezing, and chicken owners may have a conglomeration of sticky poo along with a possible disease situation.  Allowed to go untreated this condition can prosper (?) into the summer months.

Now, Dear Reader, enters the all-knowing local Chicken Whisperer with a (complex) solution.  “First, we’ll wait until dark when they’re on the roost.  Then we’ll use a flashlight and grab ‘em one by one while another person holds the captured hen upside down.  I’ll remove the offending dirty feathers, and you, Ms. Matriarch, will soothe the exposed flesh with a dab of Petroleum Jelly.”  Due to my height, I was to act as searchlight and provide operating illumination.

Now, for those of you who have been involved in complex military operations such as combat, it is well known that things go awry readily (and very quickly).  No less is true in the human endeavor for clearing poultry anatomies of excrement.  The primary consideration in this honorable task is that the chicken has absolutely no appreciation for the fact its butt is being cleaned.  In no small part, this is due to the fact that the struggling bird needs to be held firmly and carefully UPSIDE DOWN while the above noted activities are performed.  Thus, chicken cooperation would prove to be sorely lacking not unlike the time several years earlier I helped convert young bulls into steers by removing their testicles. 

A few of the reluctant participants

A few of the reluctant participants

So, with the scene and circumstances hopefully made clear to you, Dear Reader, here is what transpired:  along with a flashlight, scissors, and grim determination, four of us entered the old barn at dusk and shut the door. (For the record, I’d like to say that I happened to notice that the latch on the outside of said barn portal fell into place upon closing.  To avoid immediate panic, I elected to keep that information to myself.  I hoped that the impending activities would allow my brain enough time to come up with a satisfactory escape plan.)

At this point, it is necessary to remind the Reader that this was a SULTRY summer evening with high humidity and no breeze.  Combine those conditions with the only exit route tightly shut and one can accurately envision the rapidly developing claustrophobia and sweating amongst all participants.

However, the bugle had sounded, the banner was raised and the drummer gave momentum to our efforts (metaphorically speaking of course!)  I directed the flashlight as it did double duty selecting a victim who soon was upside down in the grip of human hands and then with its private area exposed in the glare of same light.  Without cutting flesh, the Chicken Whisperer deftly trimmed several of the hapless fowl and then called for the soothing Vaseline before getting too far down the flock.

My secret of the latched door was then exposed as I was forced to divulge that fact amongst the dusty swirl of chicken feathers and other unimaginable barely-visible-to-the-eye-motes.  This news melted sweaty brows and realization into a sickening pool of awareness. 

In an effort to quell the swelling angst, I admitted in a weak, dispassionate voice, “The Vaseline is outside and the door latch is locked.”   The Matriarch, already far removed from having any fun, proclaimed her burgeoning discomfort and replied with a smidgen of panic, “I’m gettin’ too hot!” quickly followed by “I’ve got my phone and I’ll call the neighbor!”

Here Dear Reader, it’s critical to inject that I was a lone male stuck in a hot chicken house with three other women.  In of itself, this is not overly disastrous, but the neighbor in mention is a deft smart aleck who would certainly embellish my predicament and gleefully spread the news to all the locals faster than quick-setting concrete can harden.  In short, he thrived on catching others with their pants down.

Despite my personal anxiety and perspiration, I attempted a sane and rather calm diplomatic maneuver.  “Hell no, we don’t need to be doing that!” my voice at a yelling 88 decibels.  It didn’t take very long to recognize that my comment for de-fusing the situation was void of results except to fan the flames of anxiety.

Handing off the flashlight to the daughter, I pleaded for a section of string or wire while the Matriarch’s concerns rapidly escalated towards hysteria as she fumbled to dial the neighbor’s number.  In the meantime the non-perplexed Chicken Whisperer calmly sat on a chicken shit covered perch to await an outcome. (Just in case you’re ever in need of a Chicken Whisperer, equanimity along with a shoulder full of feathers, is a hallmark characteristic of a really exceptional one.)

The daughter of the Matriarch, previously assigned hen-holding duty, hustled about with the flashlight, one upside down hen in the crook of her arm (which would soon thereafter collapse and die), looking for string/wire/loose boards in order to effect an escape.  The situation, having overwhelmed any dam of patience, deteriorated into desperation.  The Matriarch floated expletives into the mix of feathers and motes with the same fervor Stonewall Jackson did when he realized he had been mortally wounded by his own men.

Me, I’m crouched at the door attempting to slip a noose of string through a gap between the boards and snag the latch.  With a geometric progression, heat, anxiety, and my fear of being found out progressed faster than an avalanche of boulders along the nearby steep sided highway.

Finally, I was able to snag the latch and open the heavy wooden barrier.  Shouts of Halleluiah rushed out of the open door while cool air surged in.  In relief, I bent forward on one hand and knee ignoring the soupy mix of chicken feed, poop, and mud that engulfed my fingers and dampened my jeans.

But I was too late.  Though I may have prevented suffocation along with disrobing, the Matriarch had made contact with the neighbor who showed up a bit too quickly for my preferences.   Along with a fistful of tools at the ready, the smirk on his face confirmed my soon-to-be embellished incompetence of how I spent a hot summer’s evening with three females in a chicken house.  Although there hadn’t been any real doubt previously, I now would never be able to run for elected office in Bullet County, Kentucky.

In the blue-black gloaming, unperturbed chickens and their posteriors re-grouped on their respective roosts maintaining their well-established pecking order.  Wandering listlessly into the dark, grassy yard now heavy with dew, I watched the final glimpses of twilight with weary eyes as a distant Barred Owl garbled a monkey like call in its typical mocking manner. I wanted a white flag of surrender and a cool shower, in that order.

Another lesson one learns early on in the country is that humor is most often garnered at someone else’s expense.  That knowledge dovetails with the fact that some events you can never live down no matter how well you deal with crap . . .

 

An example of a symbiotic relationship: you check mine, and I'll check yours

An example of a symbiotic relationship:  I’ll check yours  if you’ll check mine!

 

*Warning!  This has only been released to the Pullet-zer Prize Judges.  If you are not a feathered member of this august body, you should not be reading this piece of dung!

Addendum to King of the World

Just a couple of short notes here which should add immeasurably to my appeal for nomination to the office of King of the World:

  1.  When I am so elected, I will address an error in judgment that has existed for centuries; that is, weekends are too short.  In order to remedy this egregious error, I will designate Saturday as three days of the week and leave Sunday where it now stands.  This means the so-called work week will be properly deflated to Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
  2. I have also realized that Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s create anxiety and havoc by falling into a short span of time during the calendar year.  Thus, I will evenly space these significant holidays throughout the twelve months.  Additionally, I will make certain that the timing of these major periods of celebration occur at the beginning or end of the work week as noted above.  No more of this Christmas and New Year’s inconveniently occurring on Wednesday.
  3. P.S.  Although no elections have been designated just yet, don’t forget to vote (for me)!

Repair of a Spirit

Edited by Josh Langston (who deserves a dadgum medal!), the following is part of an anthology of short stories entitled “Selfies”.     And, of course, it is available for purchase on Amazon!  Where else?  All proceeds benefit the ELM (Enrichment of Life Movement) in Marietta, Georgia.

 

Describing a slow, wobbly arc, the van veered sickeningly across the divided highway and hit Arizona’s car head on.  She would never be able to recall any of the accident.  On a bicycle trip to the grocery store for his mom, a fifteen year old witnessed the horrific collision.   With his mouth gaping in disbelief, he watched as the unbelted drunk shot through the van’s windshield and whipped down the pavement, a rag doll of whirling limbs gradually coming to a lifeless stop in the median.  Like a dismembered scarecrow, his shattered body lay in disarray.  Although adrenalin would quickly fill, then gradually recede from the teenager’s veins, the memory would indelibly stain his emotions for decades to come.

Arriving within a few eternally long minutes, the first responders quickly realized that the van’s driver was dead and began to devote their attention to Arizona.  After spending almost an hour cutting the tangled metal and plastic that surrounded her crumpled figure, she was barely alive.   A Life Flight helicopter perched on the highway’s shoulder awaiting its gruesome cargo.  Her face was gray from the loss of blood that now covered much of her body.   She would not have been recognizable to anyone who knew her.  With one leg and one arm dangling by thin strands of tissue and her pulse rate hardly discernible, she was loaded into the helicopter and gently tied into place. “I doubt she’ll make it” the ambulance driver said to the pilot.  For certain, she wouldn’t be making that afternoon’s sculpture class at the Atlanta Art Institute.  Despite being the primary model, her absence wouldn’t cause much consternation to students or instructor.   Petulance was the unfortunate characteristic that trumped her talents.

“I want my fee two weeks in advance and in cash!” she had yelled into the phone as her session was being scheduled.  “And, if you want me to keep coming back, I’ll need two complimentary dinners to Bones!”  Her flawless figure and abilities had been undermined by her difficult temperament for some time.  Few could penetrate the darkness that cloaked her character and see the pieces of goodness that everyone has.  A former friend quipped, “She’s gonna need to pay in advance for pallbearers for her funeral!”

Although her professional demands were reluctantly met, those ultimatums were certainly no longer at the top of her concerns now.  The helicopter’s rotors thumped as paramedics hovered over her broken body while conveying critical information to the waiting hospital staff.  Arizona drifted in and out of consciousness, her mind a flickering light of awareness.  Geoff comprised the subject of her one lucid thought, I need you!

Miles away, Geoff could feel a dissonance in his universe.  A distant humming had grown into an uncomfortable disturbance, much like a whirlwind that warns of impending fury.  His face wrinkled with concern as his head turned south.  Something was awry.

~***~

Geoff lifted his brush from the canvas.  Although the troubling sensations had receded somewhat, his mind was still distracted.  Red paint dripped from the bristles and joined the other colors already splattered on the grass below.   The sky overhead radiated October blue while Monarchs fluttered over the tops of trees on their southward migration.  It was the kind of day that was perfect for both painting and distraction; the kind of day that was a setting for creativity and diversion; the kind of day that added to Geoff’s already unsettled feelings and allowed his mind to hop about like a troupe of monkeys.  Looking down at his feet at the myriad of dripped colors he couldn’t take in the message of happiness they sent.  He let out a long sigh.

Why haven’t I been able to focus?  Having successfully applied over a year ago for sabbatical privileges at the Hambidge Center, Geoff was now more than halfway through that six month prerogative.   Yet his efforts were nowhere near the goals he’d set for himself.  He had only completed one oil and a few sketches and none of them satisfied his standards.

Relying on mail for any communication, Geoff had originally thought the mountain landscape idyllic.  Providing a much needed separation for the various artists in residence, the Center adhered to its bucolic 1930’s setting and shunned both internet and mobile phone services.  But Geoff couldn’t harmonize with the pastoral scenery.  With a vacant gaze, he began staring again at the half-finished painting in front of him.  The subject matter was of a street dance in Marietta during a Fourth of July festival.  One of the figures he had painted caused his thoughts to drift to her.  He recalled that night in Buckhead when he’d first seen her, watching her lithe body as she danced with the group with whom she occasionally performed.  Adrift in the remembrance of her gentle grace, he recalled how she would later feel in his arms, how warm and sweet her breath was when they were close. Things felt so compelling where she was involved that he was beginning to think God had given him an Eleventh Commandment.  At the same time, his other darling, painting, beckoned.   These distractions made him incomplete with both of his loves.

What about Arizona?  Something felt different with her. Had she gone to the Big Apple?  Had she moved on without him?  Having dates for almost two years, they agreed they were at a crossroads and Geoff’s break would give them both an opportunity to view their relationship from the perspective of a separation.  However, confusion roiled his mind and depleted his creative energies.  He simply couldn’t concentrate.  Something was going on and he sensed that it involved Arizona, but further clarity would escape Geoff.

~****~

 

Two hundred miles away in Atlanta, Arizona wept in the rehab facility.   Days of hurt, doctors, and medications had blurred into weeks. Lying on her stomach on a low platform with a five pound weight attached to her lower leg the pain grew unbearable, searing what remained of her calf and up into her thigh.  The remnants of that limb hung just over the edge of the table.  In an effort to return her knee to some semblance of flexibility, she was supposed to hold this position for ten minutes.  As she watched the second hand on the clock, each tick described another notch of agony as the weight seemed to respond to gravity with a geometric progression.  Turning her face, she pressed the pillow against her mouth with her one good hand and made an effort to stifle her sobbing.  Every neuron in her brain was screaming in misery.  Clenching the pillow as if it were flesh, her face contorted into concentric circles of pain.  Hurting too much to be concerned, Arizona’s once lovely hair spilled about her neck and shoulders in neglected disarray.  She made the effort to focus on something else.

“Don’t tell, Geoff!” she had commanded all who knew her.  Her few moments of rationality were spent thinking of him.  How long had he been gone?  Seemed like years, but she knew it had only been a few months.   She thought of the pact they had made to meet at the conclusion of his sabbatical.   She remembered the secluded glade, laced with ferns at the base of Whitewater Falls in North Carolina.  How would she get there now?  More importantly, how would he react when he saw what had happened to her?  Maybe she should break their mutual silence and write him.  She couldn’t begin to fathom how to compose such a letter.

Part of their agreement included Geoff painting her in the naturally private setting at Whitewater.  But now she found herself mired in self-pity, the hours of misery overwhelming the all too few bright spots.  There’s no way I’ll allow myself to be seen in this condition . . .

“You’ve always been one to make plans.  Try and focus on the future, sweetie.”  Her mother’s hand stroked her face one evening as she lay in her room at the rehabilitation center.  Arizona heard the words, but she wasn’t able to absorb her mom’s hopefulness.  Her dreams of worldly fame now lay as tattered as her broken limbs.  However, she actually did do some planning for a day to come should it continue to look as bleak as it did to her now.  Underneath her mattress she had stockpiled enough Oxycodone to facilitate her permanent escape.  Just now, that deadly inventory crooked its sinister finger towards her weeping figure.

Wordlessly, her therapist gently touched both her shoulders.  His efforts were greeted with “Leave me the hell alone!”  Arizona’s remaining fist pounded the table in frustration.  Shaking his head, the technician retreated wordlessly in an effort to not make things any worse.  Sensing its gruesome opportunity, the allure of an overdose slunk from its dark recesses.  As Arizona struggled to overcome the curveball life had thrown at her, consideration of suicide as a solution was gathering momentum.

Sensing her authority might be necessary, the center’s director had come to assist Arizona in getting back to her room.  “That’s enough for today, sweetie.”

Struggling to get to a sitting position, Arizona looked at herself in the mirrors along the wall.  Her hair was the best thing left of her former loveliness and even it was a mess.  With the lower part missing, her left leg was no more than a stump.  Her right arm was eroded to an angry red nub just above the elbow.    When she had regained consciousness in the hospital, her first realization was that she would never dance again.  That understanding had washed over her with an unyielding black sobriety.   Except where Geoff was concerned, her mood never particularly sunny, had plummeted.

The surgeons felt another few inches of amputation would be needed in order to provide a proper foundation for the promised prosthesis.  Angrily she hurled a book at the doctor who suggested the operation.  “I’m just an experiment station for you bastards.”  Palms up in supplication, the specialist made an effort to be positive.  But it was not to be as she interrupted him with a screaming “Get out of here!” before turning to face the wall.  Even that simple a maneuver made her cry out in agony.

~****~

 

Earlier that year, Geoff was due to start his sabbatical at the Hambidge Center in a few weeks.  Arizona, in keeping with her burgeoning popularity, stayed in a whirl of sittings, dances, and plays.  Rumors of New York whispered in her future.  Geoff finally was able to get her to agree to a Monday evening dinner to discuss their prospects as a couple.

“I don’t know, Geoff, so much is at stake right now for me.  My agent says I’m right on the cusp of much bigger things than this petty stuff here in Atlanta. “

His dinner half eaten, Geoff supported his chin with one arm and looked pensively at Arizona.   Folding his arms onto the table, his vaunted patience was evaporating.  “Jesus, I’ll only be away for six months and then we could find a place to live that’s convenient for both of us.”

“Dammit, let’s do the numbers!  You’re established as an artist.  Nationally known.  Soon to be international once those Paris pricks see your work.  This is MY chance!”  Her eyes were glaring with a familiar passion that Geoff had seen many times.

Geoff’s voice became low, pleading.  Any thought of finishing his dinner had now been abandoned.  He slid his plate to one side and leaned closer to Arizona.  “That’s fine, honey; I want to be supportive, not an impediment.  I really believe you’re destined for greatness.”

Arizona interrupted their mutual scrutiny and pressed her case.  Waving her arms for emphasis, she exclaimed, “I need to be mobile, ready to fly on a moment’s notice to an assignment.  I can’t be tethered like some dutiful wife!”  Gripping the stem of her wine glass tightly, she shifted in her chair so that she could look out the restaurant’s windows as if the glass would allow a glimpse into her future.

Letting out an inaudible sigh, Geoff realized that further discussion was futile for now.  Under the table, his foot tapped in frustration as his mind drew blanks about what to say or do next.  The woman he regarded as the love of his life was fixated on her independence and that liberation didn’t seem to include him at this point.

But Arizona wasn’t finished.   She made an effort to be conciliatory, atypical for her in almost any discussion or argument.

“Tell you what, honey, let’s agree to meet right after your sabbatical is completed.  With your status, I’d love to have your signature on a painting of my body.  You know, one of those classical reclining figures?  It would be wonderful.  Wouldn’t you agree that with my talents and your name, I’ll be even more famous?”

Geoff had turned away as she offered her version of an olive branch.  He turned slowly to face her again.  His dark eyes, always penetrating, seemed to pierce her soul.  “Sure, sweetie, I’ll go along with that.”  With a doubtful mind, Geoff clung to that thin strand of hope like a drowning man clings to a piece of driftwood.  Leaning over the table again, he clasped her hand in his.  His touch was gentle, his words painted crimson with sincerity.  “I’ll always love you, Arizona.  Always.” Geoff allowed a few seconds for emphasis before adding, “Regardless of whom you become or wherever you are.”

~****~

 

Although it was bright and sunny outside, the day had dawned miserable for Arizona.  The prosthesis for her leg didn’t fit correctly and the one for her arm hurt like hell so she’d left both behind.  Wallowing in self-pity, she rolled in her wheelchair to the dreaded therapy room.  For the staff and patients who had come into contact with her, most turned and looked away as she approached.  “Here comes the Prima Donna!” whispered one aide into the agreeing ear of another.

Arizona wheeled in wordlessly, thunderstorms dominating her thoughts.  “Ready to begin another session?” her therapist asked making every effort to sound bright and happy.

“I know the routine” Arizona responded glumly.  With her remaining arm and hand, she grasped the handle of the stationary bike and stood on her one leg before straddling the seat.  Minus two of her limbs, she began the obligatory five minute warm-up as her torso wobbled awkwardly.   Her mind reviewed her black circumstances.

My career has been destroyed by that drunk son-of-a-bitch.  I’ve received maybe a couple of cards from “friends”. I got the greatest notoriety of all from YouTube which showed the mangled wreckage from that sickening collision.  Worst of all, I pretty much excommunicated Geoff.  Not that he’d want me now anyway . . .  “Excuse me, ma’am, but do you know where the bathroom is?”  Arizona’s pity party had been interrupted by a young female’s voice.  Twisting on the cycle’s seat, Arizona strained to look at the source.  Wavering slightly, a waif of a girl returned her gaze with a lopsided smile.  Extending beneath her shorts, two pale shafts of artificial legs matched the color of her face.

“Yeah, it’s just around the corner from that water fountain.  Right over there.  See?”  Turning her head to follow Arizona’s finger, the girl began shuffling in that direction.  “Hey, how come I haven’t seen you here before?” Arizona asked.  The teenager paused.

“I was injured in Seattle and my uncle, lives here in Marietta.  He’s an ‘ol sweetheart and he wanted me to come here so he could keep a better eye on me.”  She paused momentarily to see if her words were of interest.  Arizona appeared receptive, so she continued.  “He’s my closest remaining relative and it was costing him a lot of money flying back and forth.  So, once I got able to travel I came here to hopefully complete my rehab.”  Looking towards the bathroom door, she hesitated another moment.  “But let me get myself over there before I wet my pants.”  With that, the stranger wobbled off, her hand seeking reassurance against the wall, still practicing how to get about.

Something in this new girl struck a chord in Arizona and her curiosity was provoked.  For the first time in a long while, her thoughts focused on someone else besides herself.   Using a borrowed cane, she plodded over to the director’s desk.  “What do you know about that girl who just came in?”

Not bothering to look up from her record keeping, the director said, “You know I can’t discuss another patient’s medical or personal situations, Arizona.  You’ve heard of HIPPA haven’t you?”  For a few seconds, Arizona glared at the director’s head as if she could discern the information she wanted.  But for once, she didn’t fire back.  Grabbing her cane, she walked away unsteadily.

However, a seed of transformation had been planted.  Some of Arizona’s apathy was being converted into an interest in living.  Her name was Kayla.  Days became shorter as the two injured patients gradually developed a rapport.  Their conversations, mostly superficial, slowly formed a basis for a deeper friendship.  For Arizona, the physical therapy was still miserable, but she noticed the young woman without legs marked her progress with more smiles than tears.

Not long after Arizona had first noticed Kayla, an elderly patient came into the therapy room.  Framed by two attendants, she shuffled in on crutches.  Something happened though, and before anyone could respond, she fell backwards with a loud thump followed by groaning.  Her pathetic sounds filled the whole area.   Abandoning their respective work stations, all of the staff rushed to provide aid to the fallen woman.  Arizona happened to be near a vacated desk which was partially hidden by an artificial plant.  Taking a chance, she used the opportunity to slip behind the fake greenery and touch one of the computer’s keys.  As luck would have it, information on the adolescent girl was up on the screen.  Laboring nearby on the exercise bike, her recently found friend’s countenance described concern as she watched people gathering around the hurting patient.  Scanning the page, Arizona’s eyes quickly picked out key bits of information.

“Female, Kayla, age 19, severely injured in car accident in Seattle on November 17th, 2013.  Parents died from blunt force trauma.  Patient’s legs requiring amputation mid-thigh. Interests:  ballet, writing, gardening.”  There was more to read, but the sounds of the staff attending to the fallen patient were getting closer now and Arizona didn’t want to risk getting caught.  In the past, she wouldn’t have cared, but a spark had been kindled.  She wanted to think and not devote her usual energy to a possible conflict.   To avoid being seen, she quietly slipped into a nearby bathroom.

For most people, change comes as a result of trauma whether it is death, despair, or divorce.  For Arizona, it came in the form of a blue-eyed, blonde haired adolescent who no longer had real legs.   At first tentative, but then with a tidal wave of bonding, Kayla and Arizona became more than just two badly damaged humans who shared their recovery in a rehab center.

Struggling into Arizona’s room one day clutching flowers, Kayla presented the bundle with an innocent smile. “Here’s a bunch of zinnias I picked for you from the cutting garden.”  For the first time in a long while, Arizona’s weeping was not a result of pain, but unfettered happiness.  In return, Arizona began to spend almost all her spare time with Kayla listening to her story, paying attention to her interests, sharing thoughts for their respective futures.

It would take countless seconds of thought slowly accumulating into days and weeks, but Arizona would come to believe that this girl was an angel sent on wings by heaven.  Arizona’s life had been so dulled by cynicism that onlyow else could she have gotten here?  Anger and despair were progressively being demolished in both women as a result of their friendship and work was being done on a foundation of hope.  But such transformations don’t occur with the flick of a switch.  For Arizona, physical and emotional accomplishments were being made in small, excruciating steps.  In symbiotic return for Kayla, Arizona began to fill in many of the voids much like the big sister she never had.

~****~

The day for the agreed upon rendezvous had started with rainy skies, but westerly winds sent the clouds east, and now the sun beamed brightly.  Geoff could hardly contain himself as he stepped carefully down the approach to the swinging bridge.  The glade where he and Arizona were to meet was just across the Nantahala River.  Although not unknown, there was almost never anyone there.  The setting beckoned with its countless shades of green dotted here and there with autumn’s fallen leaves.

Like a child bouncing on his father’s knee, Geoff crossed the bridge.  His eagerness caused the suspended wood and wires to buck as the stream sped by several feet below.  Gripping the hand cables to steady himself, he felt like a child at Christmas.  Would she be there already or would he have to wait?  He hadn’t noticed any cars at the landing.

His breathing exceeded the demands of his activity.  He reached the end of the bridge and descended the steps into the glade.  The rain had left droplets of water on all the leaves; the air smelled clean and full of promise.

Anticipation fueled Geoff’s pace and he went from a fast walk to a loping stride as he covered the short distance to their agreed spot.  Coming into the glade, he instantly noticed the draped easel sitting in the center.  Brow furrowing with curiosity, he walked up to the tripod and saw a letter attached to the cloth which covered whatever lay underneath.  He recognized Arizona’s archaic, but lovely, cursive writing.

Dear Geoff,

By the time you read this, I will have left and headed back to Atlanta.  As we’ve had no contact for some time, you should understand that I’ve experienced a crazy period since we last saw each other.  As you’ll notice by the selfie I made, I am no longer a whole person physically.   As you might imagine, it would be an understatement that I’ve had to make many adjustments.  Although I’m not quite at the point I could honestly say all of what I’ve experienced has been for the best, I do believe I will eventually come out of this a much improved person.

Although I know you will think my agnostic self has abdicated, I do believe I’ve had some very important assistance from an angel.  If you could meet her, I know you would agree.  If you could see me, I think you would witness the beginning of a person being transformed into wholeness despite an imperfect body.

As you might imagine, I have had a LOT of time to think about us.  Mostly, I am struck by both your patience and kindness, attributes which I don’t think I deserved.  You’re a sweetheart, Geoff, and I hope (and want) you to stay that way.

In terms of healing and growing, I don’t yet feel complete, and I may never be.  Thus, I feel it best if we remain apart for now.  My reasons are no longer based on my selfish professional interests.  Rather I want to build a career on caring for those who have suffered life altering injuries, particularly children.  I believe I am truly qualified to encourage hope in those so damaged.

With much love, (much more than it used to be)

Arizona

Thoughtfully, carefully, Geoff folded the letter and put it in his shirt pocket.  His eyes drifted to the draped easel.  Lifting the cloth, Geoff was stunned to see a nude photograph of his love.   Spilled red satin pooled about her figure.  Her eyes met his and her face wore a slight, winsome smile.  As he scanned her image, her broken appendages glared back for she had made the photo without wearing either of her artificial limbs.

He felt overwhelmed.  This day of anticipation had been overturned by an unpleasant surprise coupled with a grievous emotional blow.  Crumpling to his knees, his heart flooded with sadness; a tsunami of woe and loss flooded his whole being.  Holding his bent head in his hands, he sobbed.  There was so much to sort out.

It took a long time, but he gradually recovered and stood up.  In shock, he picked up the photo, easel, and cloth, and began trudging back the way he had come.  Now, the swinging bridge’s movement and the gurgling waters below seemed taunting, a reversal of their former welcoming.  He didn’t hear the calls of the flock of Goldfinches as they flew over in their up and down flight nor the snort of a deer whom he startled.  Neither did he notice the car moving slowly down the road and parking where it was hidden by a fall-brightened clump of Sassafras trees, their leaves glowing in iridescent oranges and reds.

Having stored Arizona’s belongings in his car, Geoff leaned against the roof, eyes closed, fist supporting his head against the cold metal.  He stood in abject loneliness for several minutes as he listened to breezes and rustling leaves sweep the road.  The nearby river murmured in the background.   Choking back tears again, he sighed, struggled to regain his composure, and turned to open the car’s door.

Supported by a crutch, Arizona stood quietly in front of him, a soft smile on her face.   Dropping the support, she leaned precariously and extended her good arm and hand towards him.  “I’m still learning to stand on my own.”

Geoff’s ears heard her, but his unbelieving eyes were having difficulty in shifting gears.

“I’d like to change my mind, Geoff.  If you’ll have me, I’d like for us to be together.  I’m asking for you to help me become the whole person I’ve never been.”  Tears began to spill down her reddening cheeks.  Words choked out between her gasps for air.  “I want you to take the image of that selfie and paint me as a complete human.  Both the one I was and the one I’m working to be.”  Hesitating, her voice rose in plaintive octaves. “Please, oh please, don’t give up on me, Geoff!”  Describing remorse and longing, the words eroded her fragile strength.   Quivering, she began a slow collapse.

He wouldn’t recall walking the few feet of gravel road that separated them.  But he would remember grasping her good hand in both of his and pulling her closer.  And, he would recall the completeness he felt as she fit against him, their bodies warming in their closeness.  He’d never forget how that embrace would begin the melting of their recent farewell into a receding memory.

Seared into their mutual remembrance for always, was the way he took her in his arms and held her tightly, lovingly for a long while; a length of time that would prove to be forever.

The End

Commentary on Extinction

The following is a copy of an email response I sent to a friend recently.  She has read the book I loaned her, The Sixth Extinction, and was encouraging me to watch the Discovery Channel documentary to be shown this coming Wednesday, December 2nd on the same topic.  Sorry, I’m not sure of the time.

I saw the advertisements for it on the national news tonight.  I have formed the following opinions over the last few years:

1)  The world’s greatest problem (and ours too!) is human population.  I’m dubious we can accomplish it in time or that there will be the motivation necessary to do so, but I believe human numbers need to be reduced dramatically with remaining individuals having learned how to live in greater balance with the Earth.
2)  As pointed out in the book, I also believe (in addition to hastening the extinction of other living things) that most humans don’t realize we are collectively fouling our own nest.  Sounds a little perverse perhaps, but I take some comfort in knowing that the world has survived similar cataclysms and recovered. In other words, it will take some time, but the world will once again proliferate with different organisms when humans aren’t around any longer (or in lesser numbers). Of course, that comforting thought doesn’t negate my sadness at the wholesale destruction my species has wrought in the name of well-being for itself.
3)  It seems to me that the primary objective of any life form is to A) reproduce itself, and B) within the means that organism is capable, to increase its numbers at the expense of others (symbiotic relationships excepted).  So, while it’s not a great excuse, we’re only doing what any other species would do if it were so capable.  But this realization alone only points to the fact that, if we are so aware, what are we going to do about it?  There are some who are trying, some of us who put lip service to the thought of conservation, etc., but I’m afraid that the preponderance of humans are preoccupied with their own survival; or simply don’t understand that the loss of any specie does have some deleterious effect on the survivors. The sardonic view is to think that as long as I can get in my air conditioned car, obtain fuel for it, buy copious amounts of food whenever I want, no such loss affects me.  But I feel that the domino effect of exponentially increasing extinction affects all remaining occupants.  I am not a complete pessimist, but I tend to lean toward the belief that it is too late for us.  I witness the continuing development of homes, businesses, roads, etc. in this area and am disheartened.  I now see gaps in the horizon where there were once trees and I miss them.   I would love to see the sky “blackened from horizon to horizon” with the now extinct passenger pigeon.  I would love to live in a world where clean water was abundant.
But one day it will be so again.  I live in the hope of being able to be a part of it.

Headed Out West

My wife and I were driving out West with our seventeen-year old nephew to look at colleges for him in Colorado.   His adolescent sense of direction had mandated that he spend the next period of his life in a clime with more snow and less humidity than what he experienced growing up.  And, we were making an effort to support his dream.

Having started in Atlanta, we had just passed through Kansas City on the second day of our trip.  Our nephew was already sleeping in what seemed to be his permanent state of rest.  Being early, the sun glowed behind us adding impetus to our journey.   Beginning as one of those late August mornings that hint of autumn, the air was light and cool and the sky forever clear.

The rolling hills of western Missouri had been flattened by the Kansas horizon, and the transition from city to countryside had been almost as abrupt, the steel and glass and concrete surrendering to the dark soil and its crops.  Our view was dominated by  monochromatic expanses  of green corn sprouting like fountains in their endless rows.   Occasionally, fields containing myriads of bright yellow dots of sunflowers provided happy interruptions as their heads turned in unison to greet the rising sun.sunflower

But the cornstalks dominated, standing in straight and narrow lines which spoke of daylong toil governed by rigidly defined rules.  Growing up in east Tennessee, I had wilted in similar fields while bearing witness to linear thinking that bore the bitter fruits of racism and homophobia.  Somehow in early adolescence, I began an internal revolt against the mindset that insisted that birds of a feather stay together.  My growth blossomed into a love of gardening with a preference for those that are riotous with color and blowsy with variety.  The exception appealed to my own burgeoning rebelliousness.

Continuing, we pierced the West’s vastness.  We were definitely in farm country.  Here and there with asymmetrical and random spacing, would be orderly farmhouses married to their obligatory silos and barns, all extensions of drabness.   Their somber appearance described functional but not aesthetic; their sides longing for more cheerful hues I thought.   My mind considered everything and nothing; my decades-ago past a backdrop for my thinking.corn rows with farmhouse and silo

We approached a section of interstate that had a charge for use – – – a toll road.  We knew about it because our map had prepared us for its presence.  “LAST EXIT BEFORE TOLL” a bold sign warned.  We went past it not with temerity, but more with modest confidence and a timid spirit of adventure.  I drove the speed limit as I always did, continuing west inexorably as though commanded to do so.  In our somnolent state,  with senses dulled by vastness, it seemed that we went several miles before coming to a line of tollbooths that dammed the flow of traffic.

I slowed and approached one of the booths with care; I wanted to make sure that I did things correctly.  It seemed important that I appeared experienced with the highway even though this was my first time on this road.    Slowing, I pulled our car perfectly even with the attendant’s window, stopping a comfortable arm’s length away.

A female, who appeared to be in her early thirties, manned the booth.  I looked quickly to verify her gender because she wore no make-up and her hair was boyishly close-cropped, a careful part on one side with fine strands that curved back neatly above her ear.  With high cheekbones and a straight, thin jaw, her chiseled face gave her a fit appearance.  A plaid shirt loosely draped her upper body in a nondescript manner that disguised her breasts.  Her short fingernails were neatly trimmed, the better to handle money, I thought.  Her demeanor only subtly hinted at maleness.  I knew in an instant.

Our eyes made momentary contact.  Then, she cast an experienced glance at our car and told me the amount due.  “$2.75, please,” she said with a voice wrung dry of emotion by repetition and monotony.

What’s in like to live out here?  I asked her in my imagination.  My tone was friendly, inviting.  Instead I said, “Sure” and gave her the exact amount with my wife’s assistance of three quarters.

All right was the laconic response I envisioned to my query.  I’ll bet, I thought sardonically, out here in this conservative breadbasket of America.  But then I imagined she might look at me a little more carefully, allowing her calloused exterior to be penetrated a bit, and she would add as an afterthought: My partner and I hope to move out to some acreage with privacy . . . out in the country just north of here.  Her eyes glistened and I could see that her countenance was friendlier, happier with that intention.  She glanced momentarily in the direction we were heading as though looking for a rainbow.

I wanted to say exactly the right thing for her, something hopeful and supportive.  But I didn’t know how.  I relied on my eyes to overcome the brevity of our meeting, urging their language to do the talking.  I’ll bet it’s tough at times they said and then added, I wish things were easier for you.   I wanted to be hopeful, encouraging.  I wanted to say that I believed there was much more gray than black and white, that there were paths for new beginnings.

“Thanks for the exact change” she said, interrupting my reverie with mid-western clarity.  I wasn’t sure if her comment was rendered with a perfunctory politeness or had been colored by acknowledgement of my thoughts.  Only a few seconds had elapsed since we drove up to the window, yet decades of suppressed connections passed between us.  My “You’re welcome” was delivered with an awkward, lopsided smile.  Turning in my seat to face the highway, my eyes saw the road continuing, piercing the horizon, a long lance of pavement.  The narrow band separated the land’s overwhelming intentions providing a path, a route, an escape.  Brushing my arm supportively, my wife’s hand returned to her lap.  I hope that tollbooth operator knew that I knew and understood.road horizon

In the back seat, our nephew continued his dozing, oblivious to everything but dreams tinted with promise.  I wanted them all to come true.

The Bankwalker

waterfalls

In 1940, two thirds of American households did not have indoor plumbing.  That form of modern convenience didn’t reach our neck of the woods until the early sixties.  In those out-house days, most of my male friends spent our entire week or, at least any time not going to school, in farming activities of one sort or another.  These agrarian pursuits of survival and cultivation, while physically healthy in many ways, did add layer upon dusty layer of dirt and filth onto our young bodies.  I remember weeding and suckering tobacco as a particularly loathsome task.

In addition to the absence of swimming pools, bathing suits were also not only an unknown commodity but would have been an unnecessary expense.  We learned at an early age the sensual freedom that the fluid blend of nakedness and cool water gave.  When the season was mild enough to encourage our efforts at getting clean, going skinny dipping in some local creek or river with other guys was a much preferred way of ridding ourselves of the accumulated grime that a week’s worth of farming rendered.   In combination with warmer weather, “Ya goin’ down to the hole?” was all the invitation most of us needed.

riverbankIn those days, any male who was particularly well-endowed, was known as a ‘bankwalker’.  His proud pedestal was the banks of the local swimming hole and his title was bestowed in a non-verbal manner by his awed on-lookers.  After all, no one had to be told as comparisons were no further than a quick glimpse of one’s own anatomy in measured contrast to the afternoon’s swimming companions.

Carl, the bankwalker who set the blue ribbon standard for that term in that Tennessee county where I grew up, was ‘hung’, as the vernacular goes, like the finest of stallions.  In the flaccid state his penis appeared to be the length of a tobacco trowel’s handle, hanging like a long, limp pendulum where his muscular legs merged.  He would parade with immense pride up and down the bank of the stream where us males went swimming on summertime occasions.  Talking and laughing in a garrulous manner, his arms rotated from his shoulders like the blades on our farm’s windmill.   All the while, he was nonchalantly displaying his prowess in a casual yet prominent manner.

Once, with great braggadocio, I heard him whispering loudly to one of his companions about a recent romantic encounter. “Yep, I plowed her field last night and she loved every minute of it!  Cooed in my ear like a lovesick dove!”  I was at an age where I knew his commentary implied some sort of naughty activity, but I was several years away from a more complete understanding of his boasting.   Envy and admiration easily penetrated my ignorance however, and I did my best to follow any country wisdom available for enhancing my own nether regions.   Nothing yielded the desired results.

Yet Carl’s reputation outgrew his own self-promotion as gargantuan items are prone to do whether it be fish or tomatoes.  On rare occasion, he would put his backside to the creek full of boys and young men to engage in banter with someone who had gotten out to dry off and, perhaps, to have a closer, but sideways look at our home grown version of  Michelangelo’s David.  Then, on completion of his ego-shortened dialogue, he would whirl around quickly, his arms spread in a ballet of nakedness.  Swinging almost straight out, his penis took flight, allowing those of us in the water a fresh frontal view, as if in an effort was required to make up for even a moment’s visual loss of his Gulliver-like male organs.

swimmingCarl understood subject positioning better than any photographer I would ever meet.  In a narcissistic manner, he most particularly enjoyed the water’s reflection of his incredibly substantial assets in the afternoon light.  In that vain display, he preferred a solitary parade, gesticulating with his arms to help focus attention on his nakedness, overwhelming the burbling stream and our own boisterous play so that he would remain center stage.  He was the Sun in our adolescent system and we circled him in wobbly orbits of envy and admiration.

His Maker, not satisfied with supplying Carl with an over-sized dick, had also blessed him with large testicles that hung like two bright purple Damson plums framing the root of his manhood.  Of course, Carl wasted little time in the actual activity of swimming, much preferring strutting along the slippery bank while carefully avoiding any risk of allowing the cool waters to diminish, if even temporarily, his unusual size.  He was most interested in a sort of casual, seemingly unintentional intimidation of the local maledom—-and it worked.  All of us guys were in whispered awe, and the legacy of his equipment, while difficult to exaggerate, lingered for years after he moved away.

Later, when I experienced my own sexual awakening, I wondered if Carl wasn’t a bit overly enormous for the typical dimensions of the female anatomy–a musing that gave me some sense of satisfaction with the more ‘normal’ size that I was able to field.  When I heard the joke about the abnormally large fellow who was only able to attain sexual satisfaction with a cow, I couldn’t help but think about Carl.

I hope he married well.